Amid COVID-19 Vaccine Race, Sabin Vaccine Institute and the Aspen Institute Release Report on Vaccine Hesitancy; A Call to Improve Vaccine Acceptance

June 2, 2020

New report delves into the role of misinformation in shaping vaccination behavior and provides bold, actionable recommendations to counter growing trend of vaccine hesitancy

Samia Kemal
Sabin Vaccine Institute
+1 202 621 1691

Jon Purves
Aspen Institute

Washington, DC, June 2, 2020 – As the COVID-19 vaccine race accelerates, experts recognize that the challenge will not end with the development of a vaccine. The extraordinary effort to make a vaccine available across the globe will only be effective if the majority of people achieve immunity through vaccination. “Meeting the Challenge of Vaccination Hesitancy,” a new report released today by the Sabin-Aspen Vaccine Science and Policy Group, calls for an urgent, coordinated effort to strengthen vaccine acceptance and address the risk that vaccination hesitancy – the reluctance or opposition to vaccination despite the availability of safe and effective vaccines – poses to communities around the world.

The global call for a vaccine to end the COVID-19 pandemic highlights the value of vaccines for the health and economic stability of individuals and communities. While the world eagerly awaits the day when COVID-19 vaccines will be widely available, the threat of deadly vaccine-preventable outbreaks is at our doorstep. Just last year, the United States suffered its largest measles outbreak in 20 years, concentrated in communities with low immunization rates. Similar outbreaks have occurred around the world in communities susceptible to measles because of under vaccination.

Designed to maintain, restore and strengthen confidence in the value of vaccines, the report includes three “big ideas” that alone and together can contribute to reversing the trend. The report calls for:

  • A new media collaborative to serve as an interface between the vaccination community and social media platforms
  • A research agenda to create ample evidence-based knowledge about the sources of vaccine hesitancy and the best ways to counter it
  • A new narrative to shift the conversation around immunization to one that focuses on achievements and promise and helps build resiliency in the vaccine enterprise

Progress toward increasing immunization coverage has stalled in recent years, opening the door to outbreaks of measles and other vaccine-preventable diseases. This trend is often fueled by complacency and loss of confidence in the system that develops, produces, recommends and delivers vaccines. Hesitancy toward vaccination can be exacerbated by the spread of misinformation about the safety and efficacy of vaccines across the internet.

With misleading and conspiratorial vaccine theories proliferating online, it has become critical to effectively measure and understand the impact of vaccine misinformation, and to devise a strategy to enhance public trust in all vaccines. These actions are needed to protect overall health for the next generation and to ensure successful uptake of a COVID-19 vaccine when it is available.

The new report presents an in-depth analysis into the root causes of vaccine hesitancy, an exploration of the current landscape of misinformation and actionable steps to address these trends. The report is a product of the Sabin-Aspen Vaccine Science & Policy Group, a joint initiative of the Sabin Vaccine Institute (Sabin) and the Aspen Institute, made up of 24 global innovators and thought leaders with converged expertise across public health, medicine, philanthropy, venture capital, biotechnology, biology, ecology, ethics and journalism. Misinformation on social media and skepticism and distrust in government, industry and science are detailed in the five background papers that frame the report.

“In order to shift the conversation and address the dangers of misinformation, we need to learn how people make decisions about vaccines,” said Shirley M. Tilghman, president emerita of the university, professor of molecular biology and public affairs at Princeton University and Sabin-Aspen Group co-chair. “This requires understanding the social processes that contribute to attitudes around vaccines and conducting effective education and outreach to activate awareness and support for immunization.”

“Developing strategies to counter vaccine hesitancy will require significant investment, as well as broader engagement with new disciplines and collaborators, especially within the social and behavioral sciences and with social media platforms,” said Harvey V. Fineberg, M.D., Ph.D., president of the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation and a Sabin-Aspen Group co-chair. “Many of the tech companies are aware of and have begun to be responsive to vaccine misinformation; now it’s up to us to deepen this partnership to improve vaccine acceptance and protect the health of individuals and communities around the world.”

“Misinformation is emerging about COVID-19 vaccines, even as they are early in development, increasing the urgency to understand vaccine hesitancy and put forth actionable solutions,” said Bruce Gellin, M.D., M.P.H., Sabin’s president of Global Immunization. “We are proud to share this report, and grateful for our partnership with the Aspen Institute and the leaders who have brought their creativity and determination to this issue.”

Vaccines face another obstacle – their own success. Decades of diligent vaccination campaigns have established community immunity (or herd immunity), in which the percentage of a population immune to a disease is high enough to prevent its spread. As a result, the potentially deadly consequences of not vaccinating have become less apparent to the general public, leading to a rise in complacency.

“Vaccine uptake is just as critical to understand and improve as vaccine access” said Ruth Katz, executive director of the Aspen Institute Health, Medicine and Society (HMS) Program. “If the factors that contribute to vaccine hesitancy – complacency, convenience and confidence – are not properly understood or addressed, the health and wellbeing of future generations will be at risk.”

The Sabin-Aspen Vaccine Science & Policy Group is a partnership that brings together senior leaders across many disciplines to examine some of the most challenging vaccine-related issues and drive impactful change. This second meeting of the Sabin-Aspen Vaccine Science & Policy Group and its research and report were funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Read the full report.



  • Vaccine-preventable infectious diseases can be controlled without 100 percent vaccine coverage, but the rates must be high—generally in the 80-95 percent range, depending on the disease in question—to reliably protect against outbreaks
  • The June 2019 “Wellcome report” measured attitudes and perceptions toward science and showed the highest levels of vaccine mistrust exist in Europe and North America, where the mortality from vaccine-preventable diseases is lowest. The study found that 79 percent of the world’s population “somewhat” or “strongly” agreed with the statement that vaccines are generally safe. That figure was 72 percent in North America, 59 percent in Western Europe, and only 50 percent in Eastern Europe, while 95 percent of South Asians and 88 percent of Central Americans agreed with the statement
  • The cost of an outbreak can cripple economies: According to a study in the October 2018 Journal of Infectious Diseases, the Ebola outbreak that ravaged East Africa in 2014 cost economies an estimated $53 billion; the economic cost to the United States during just the first two months fighting the COVID-19 pandemic is estimated to be $2.14 trillion 

About Sabin-Aspen Vaccine Science & Policy Group


  • Harvey V. Fineberg, President, Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation
  • Shirley M. Tilghman, President Emerita of the University and Professor of Molecular Biology and Public Affairs, Princeton University


  • Ann Arvin, Lucile Salter Packard Professor of Pediatrics (Infectious Disease) and Professor of Microbiology, Stanford University School of Medicine; Vice Provost and Dean of Research Emeritus, Stanford University.
  • Seth Berkley, Chief Executive Officer, Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance
  • Alan Bernstein, President and Chief Executive Officer, Canadian Institute for Advanced Research
  • Tanisha Carino, Executive Vice President and Chief Corporate Affairs Officer, Alexion
  • Michael Conway, Senior Partner, McKinsey & Company
  • Kathryn Edwards, Sarah H. Sell and Cornelius Vanderbilt Chair in Pediatrics and Professor of Pediatrics, Vanderbilt School of Medicine
  • Mark Feinberg, President and Chief Executive Officer, International AIDS Vaccine Initiative (IAVI)
  • Margaret Hamburg, Foreign Secretary, National Academy of Medicine; President, American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS)
  • Penny Heaton, Chief Executive Officer, Bill & Melinda Gates Medical Research Institute
  • Rick Klausner, Founder and Chief Executive Officer, Lyell Immunopharma
  • Simon Levin, James S. McDonnell Distinguished University Professor in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Princeton University; Director, Center for BioComplexity, Princeton Environmental Institute
  • Diego Miralles, Chief Executive Officer, Vividion Therapeutics
  • Kelly Moore, Adjunct Associate Professor, Health Policy, Vanderbilt University Medical Center; Member, Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
  • Katherine O’Brien, Director, Department of Immunization, Vaccines and Biologicals, World Health Organization
  • Muhammad Pate, Global Director, Health, Nutrition and Population Global Practice, World Bank; Director, Global Financing Facility for Women, Children and Adolescents, World Bank Group
  • Helen Rees, Founder and Executive Director, Wits Reproductive Health and HIV Institute, University of Witwatersrand
  • Laura Riley, Chair of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Weill Cornell Medicine and Obstetrician and Gynecologist-in-Chief, New York Presbyterian Hospital
  • Pardis Sabeti, Professor, Center for Systems Biology and Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology, Harvard University and Department of Immunology and Infectious Disease, Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health, Harvard University; Member, Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT; Principal Investigator, Sabeti Lab, FAS Center for Systems Biology, Harvard University
  • George Siber, Chief Scientific Officer, ClearPath Development Company
  • Michael Specter, Staff Writer, The New Yorker
  • Wendy Taylor, Rockefeller Foundation Fellow, The Rockefeller Foundation
  • Robert Tepper, Co-Founder and General Partner, Third Rock Ventures, LLC


About the Sabin Vaccine Institute

The Sabin Vaccine Institute is a leading advocate for expanding vaccine access and uptake globally, advancing vaccine research and development, and amplifying vaccine knowledge and innovation. Unlocking the potential of vaccines through partnership, Sabin has built a robust ecosystem of funders, innovators, implementers, practitioners, policy makers and public stakeholders to advance its vision of a future free from preventable diseases. As a non-profit with more than two decades of experience, Sabin is committed to finding solutions that last and extending the full benefits of vaccines to all people, regardless of who they are or where they live. At Sabin, we believe in the power of vaccines to change the world. For more information, visit and follow us on Twitter, @SabinVaccine.

About the Aspen Institute’s Health, Medicine and Society Program

Established in 2005, the Aspen Institute’s Health, Medicine and Society Program brings together influential groups of thought leaders, decision-makers, and the informed public to consider health challenges facing the U.S. in the 21st century and to identify practical solutions for addressing them. For more information, visit The Aspen Institute is a global nonprofit organization committed to realizing a free, just, and equitable society. Founded in 1949, the Institute drives change through dialogue, leadership, and action to help solve the most important challenges facing the United States and the world. Headquartered in Washington, DC, the Institute has a campus in Aspen, Colorado, and an international network of partners.

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