Emotional Contagion in Times of COVID: From Fear to Hope

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“We all need to remember that we are making history. COVID is going to be a significant memory in both individual and collective history. So, the more we can make that vaccination experience — the access, the support around it — make sense in people’s values and community, the better.”

Dr. Heidi Larson

On Sept. 2, the USC Institute on Inequalities in Global Health, in partnership with the USC COVID-19 Pandemic Research Center, hosted a virtual event featuring Dr. Heidi Larson, director of The Vaccination Confidence Project, professor of anthropology, risk and decision science at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, and author of “Stuck: How Vaccine Rumors Start and Why They Don’t Go Away.” Dr. Larson, who has studied rumors in the context of vaccine hesitancy around the world for more than 20 years, shared how the power of emotions and beliefs — in addition to misinformation — has affected the COVID response, and drew on her experience researching social and political factors that can affect the uptake of health interventions to demonstrate how historic and current inequities fuel fear around mass vaccination campaigns. “When people say, ‘I’m afraid of this,’ we can’t correct them. We have to empathize, and we always need to have credible information,” said Dr. Larson, emphasizing that scientific and scholarly communities should embrace the opportunity to think beyond numbers and engage with people from an empathy perspective. With over 250 attendees, the event also featured reactions and commentary from Dr. Lourdes Baezconde-Garbanati and Dr. Jeffrey Klausner, both professors in the Department of Population and Public Health Sciences at the USC Keck School of Medicine. 

Read more about Dr. Larson’s lecture and watch the recording.

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