Intended for healthcare professionals

Rapid response to:


Vaccinating the UK against covid-19

BMJ 2020; 371 doi: (Published 30 November 2020) Cite this as: BMJ 2020;371:m4654

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Rapid Response:

Re: Vaccinating the UK against covid-19

Dear Editor

Following Nadhim Zahawi’s appointment as Minister for COVID Vaccine Deployment, a key aspect of his role will be communicating the benefits - and any risks - of vaccines for COVID-19. These will also have to be communicated honestly and effectively by all who are administering vaccines. Zahawi will need not merely to ask that people trust the new vaccines - far more importantly, he will need to demonstrate why trust is well-placed.

For decades, social scientists in the UK and internationally have extensively studied how people do and do not take-up vaccinations. Research in this area includes powerful analyses of how decision-making is contoured by, for instance, trust in government and biomedicine, personal and professional biographies, and the exigencies of everyday life. Even assuming a desire to vaccinate one's self or others, access to vaccination is itself socially shaped and patterned; for example, by the availability of services, reliable and affordable transport, and prior experiences with primary care.

It is essential that insights from the social sciences inform the roll-out of COVID-19 vaccines. To this end, Nadhim Zahawi should appoint a high-profile social scientific lead as a senior advisor - and play close and careful attention to the advice given. Such an individual would be able to enrol experts and leverage expertise to shape vaccination campaigns and maximise uptake.

In the case of vaccines, as in so many other ways, the inputs and guidance of social scientists are vital to managing COVID-19.

Competing interests: No competing interests

02 December 2020
Martyn D. Pickersgill
Professor of the Sociology of Science and Medicine
Edinburgh Medical School
Centre for Biomedicine, Self and Society, Usher Institute, University of Edinburgh, Old Medical School Building, Teviot Place, Edinburgh, EH8 9AG