Skip to content

How Pharmaceutical Companies Can Help Increase Vaccine Uptake

06 Apr 2024
Vaccine hesitancy is highest for Black people, followed by Bangladeshi/Pakistani people
Vaccine uptake remains low in poorer and more ethnically diverse neighbourhoods
Healthcare workers are a trusted source of health information for minority ethnic groups
Why are vaccine rates dropping in the UK?

Vaccine rates are falling in the UK and, according to the World Health Organization, vaccine hesitancy is one of the top ten threats to global health, along with other major threats such as climate and air pollution.

The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) recently declared a national incident due to a growing outbreak of measles, one of the most contagious viruses, with extra clinics and vaccine buses targeting communities with low vaccination rates. Uptake of the MMR (Measles, Mumps and Rubella) vaccine has also fallen worldwide in the wake of the pandemic.

The decline has been attributed to various factors, including misinformation, scepticism on efficacy and logistical challenges accessing vaccination services.

How are companies and the government addressing this public health emergency?

Previous efforts to address the issue have included a range of public health campaigns such as ‘If we’re not vaccinated we’re not protected’ from The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) and a Shingle awareness programme ‘Get Shingles Ready’ from pharmaceutical giant, GSK.

These campaigns aim to dispel myths, provide accurate information and/or encourage vaccination uptake among different age groups and communities.

What does empathy have to do with addressing vaccine rates?

New research has found that communicating with patients about vaccine hesitancy, with a focus on empathy, could also help improve uptake.

"“Empathy is defined in numerous ways; however, in healthcare, there is emerging consensus that it involves therapeutic empathy, whereby a HCP puts themselves in a patient’s position to acknowledge their feelings, concerns and expectations and behaves in a way to show that they understand.”"

Improving Empathy in Healthcare Consultations - a Secondary Analysis of Interventions

The research tested the approach of ‘empathetic refutational interview’ in more than 2,500 patients in the UK and US who had negative opinions or were on the fence about vaccination. As part of the research, healthcare professionals (HCPs) in the UK and US were trained in an approach coined the ‘Empathetic Refutational Interview’ or ERI.

This includes:

  • Finding out more about the individual’s specific concerns to better understand their motivations and reservations.
  • Addressing false or misleading anti-vaccination arguments by providing facts about immunisation.


However, one crucial element to ensure the above affected behaviour change was empathy from the healthcare professional. In fact, HCPs who affirmed participants’ concerns generated significantly more support for their refutations and subsequent information.

Why are facts not enough for vaccine awareness campaigns?

Misconceptions on vaccines come from myriad sources, including social and cultural factors, personal interests or ideologies.

For example, some vaccines use porcine gelatine in vaccines as a stabiliser and therefore an anti-vaccination attitude rooted in religious beliefs, such as Islam, may be due to perceived violations of dietary norms.

There are alternatives for some vaccines but providing patients with this hard facts without acknowledging a religious belief and the concerns that stem from it could be perceived as a direct attack on their worldview.

Findings in the journal of Health Psychology, state that without empathy, HCPs are limited in their capacity to increase on vaccine acceptance and lower support for anti-vaccination arguments. However, the majority of participants (around 64%) who experienced ERI indicated they were more open to continuing the conversation with a healthcare professional, and around 12% became more willing to be vaccinated compared to those participants who received the factual approach.

Study leader Dr Dawn Holford, senior research associate in psychology, said the results were timely given the UK currently facing a growing measles outbreak due to falling MMR uptake.

"‘The study highlights how the way misinformation is tackled, especially with vaccine averse groups, can play a vital role in changing perceptions which can be hard to shift.’ said Dr Holford. ‘Our study shows it is possible to gain trust and change minds if we take people’s concerns seriously and tailor our approach to help them make informed decisions about their health.""

Dr Dawn Holford

What role can pharmaceutical companies play to help increase vaccine uptake?

Healthcare professionals need skills and support to effectively refute vaccine misconceptions held by patients. This is why the aforementioned research is being developed into training tools and programmes to support healthcare professionals in the UK and across Europe.

However, in light of the need for empathy to increase efficacy, what role could pharmaceutical companies play to support healthcare professionals in this area?

Some ideas and examples include:

  • HCP talking guides: Whether in print of via digital platforms, materials about new vaccines and potential side effects should be paired with useful phrases to use when met with vaccine hesitancy. Things to include could be; an overview on misconceptions relevant to the vaccine, specific words and phrases to avoid, useful phrases to use, signposting to support services
  • Patient Decision Aids: when developing decision aids or tools for healthcare professionals to use with patients, pharmaceutical companies should identify cultural and ideological issues specific to those vaccinations and unpack them. This would help healthcare professional develop a more nuanced approach in consultations.
  • Empathy training: Provide details on exercises and develop courses that focus on communication skills, active listening, and understanding patients’ perspectives and promote those directly to primary care physicians.


Our team can help you develop and distribute these resources to thousands of GP practices, pharmacies and hospitals across the UK using our education pack service. Our account teams will help you identify the correct healthcare professional targets (GPs, nurses, specialist clinicians) and refine distribution depending on patient profiles too.

Get in touch with us today and we can work with you help get you in front of millions of patients and healthcare professionals.

Harriet Bush Harriet's main passion is challenging health inequities and ensuring patient information empowers patients at the point-of-need. She's an active member of the Patient Information (PIF) community and, prior to her tenure at IDS, was a seasoned comms pro working client side with global leaders in and challenger brands in the health and wellness industries.