Social sciences research priorities about vaccine and vaccination

In light of the highly uneven rollout of COVID-19 vaccination across the planet, we are calling for social scientists from diverse disciplines to brainstorm about the most pressing research questions around COVID-19 vaccines and vaccination. Our objective is to catalyze operational and critical research, particularly moving beyond research aimed at promoting vaccine uptake. Below are some initial ideas, contributors should feel free to reformulate and refine questions. You are also welcome to take inspiration from these questions for your research. The themes are structured according to the “social life” of vaccines. You are invited to review the list – which can be found under the discussion topic on this page – to propose additional topics and to comment on the current questions in the comment box below. Sonar-Global members will review regularly the comments and suggestions will be integrated into the list after considering their relevance and fit with existing themes.

Production-Supply (and provisioning)

  • Technological, regulatory and economic conditions for vaccine production (including packaging) and feasibility in the Global South
  • Mechanisms and regulations for vaccine access, intellectual property, economics and geopolitics of supply, legal immunity of manufacturers; global agreements to expand and promote vaccine access (Covax); “vaccine nationalism”
  • Informal vaccine production and markets (suboptimal quality and counterfeit products)
  • Infrastructure concerns, including shipping to distant/isolated locations, cold chain and storage in varying conditions; uneven infrastructures for receiving, storing and distribution

Distribution-Vaccination policies

  • Immunization policies: vaccinodromes, EPI systems, specific mass campaigns, integration into health care, role of the private sector and enterprises, identification of the vaccinated, role of patient associations and social coverage systems. Politics of boosters, which also affects questions of priority populations and which vaccine for which group.
  • Priority populations: criteria and categorizations, what is “priority” and why these social categories were chosen? How to achieve consensus in the context of limited vaccines, modeling and impacts, prior diagnostics of vulnerabilities, financing modes, inter-country differences and regional framework, repartition: which vaccine for which group, and who decides?
  • Vaccinovigilance: experimental devices/organization for monitoring adverse events, uses and detour, data production and interpretation, diagnosis of post-vaccination symptoms and alternative interpretations
  • Equity in access: inequalities, populations at risk of non-access, access of the elderly, border management, vaccine passports: uneven policy landscape, ethics

Uptake-Perceptions among target groups

  • Narratives of vaccination before and after, individual experience of adverse events and interpretations, social management of adverse effects, including the fight for legal compensation and the mobilization of associations of victims
  • Voluntary or opt-out vaccination? Methods of informed consent collection and forms of consent
  • Vaccination practices: studies on injection, support by community relays, intra-family impact
  • Alternatives to vaccinations, if unavailable? (some prophylactic therapies tested now to  reduce the severity of COVID)

Perceptions by communities and impact

  • Comparative perceptions of different vaccines in social context, subpopulations, and among “vaccines ecosystems”
  • Attitudes and perceptions of health professionals, scientific controversies, interpretations of side effects (labor concerns? workload and working environments? training and specialized supplies?)
  • Impact of COVID vaccination distribution on the uptake and management of other vaccines
  • Antivax communities, alternative discourses, social organization and underlying logics of protest
  • Community participation at all stages of the process


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Alice Desclaux
Alice Desclaux
9 months ago

Hi dear colleagues,
Recently a controversy has emerged in Africa and Europe about “immunity passports”. Should people who have been vaccinated get a passport, a certificate or a QR code, to be able to get access to some places or to travel? There are many arguments against a certificate -due to the fact that knowledge is missing regarding the duration and coefficient of immunity given by vaccines or by the disease. Another argument against is the excessive distinction that can be made on this basis, with an “othering” possible effect. However some people mention that a kind of passport or certificate will be requested by airline companies. Others remind that certificates for yellow fever have been used without major social effect. Thus we might add to the list something like “objectification of immunity status through certificates or immunity passports, social uses, social effects”. Maybe this topic should be under “Perceptions by communities and impact”.

Tamara Giles-Vernick
Tamara Giles-Vernick
9 months ago
Reply to  Alice Desclaux

Dear Alice, dear colleagues,
Yes, absolutely, this debate should be addressed. In addition to the many important questions you raise, Alice, we might also consider the profound inequalities in vaccine access around the world, which in turn raises a host of questions about vaccine production, intellectual property, and contracts for the acquisition of vaccines.
The WHO social sciences roadmap in 2020 produced an analysis of the feasibility of “immunity passports”, but I haven’t looked at it recently and wonder if it could or should be updated.

9 months ago
Reply to  Alice Desclaux

Really interesting. We should also think about the fact that this kind of measure is a favorable ground for the development of ‘false certificates’ and a new market for informal economy. We already saw that with PCR test certificates that some people bought in West-Africa

Ruth Kutalek
Ruth Kutalek
9 months ago

Dear colleagues
I think we need to discuss and understand the phenomenon of vaccine hesitancy, which is usually more complex than just „pro-vax” or „anti-vax”. Patients (and caretakers) usually base their decision whether to vaccinate or not on the understanding of vaccine safety; risk and vulnerability (of oneself and others), on perceptions of the disease itself & on immunity. Many of these considerations are influenced by media reports, by opinions of peers etc. So I think a more nuanced understanding would help in the discussion.

Sharon Abramowitz
Sharon Alane Abramowitz
9 months ago

Public and private incentives for vaccination; scientific literacy and science education as part of vaccine communications; mobilization of grassroots social networks to promote vaccine uptake; distributional equity interventions (what works, what doesn’t).

9 months ago

Socio political dimensions and geopolitics of COVID-19 vaccine rolling out: how the pandemic response re shape (or not) international relations? How does it impact North/South and South/South relations? How some States are using COVID-19 vaccine to demonstrate or not power and knowledge at global and local spheres? How populations perceived the balance of power around this issue?

Janice Graham
9 months ago

Open access and transparency of all vaccine clinical trial data, protocols, amendments, decisions making, advisory committee members’s conflict of interests, procurement contracts, and open up the parent protections for global access and equity.

Janice Graham
9 months ago
Reply to  Janice Graham

That was intended to be “paTent protections” – use national march in orders and the like to remove biomanufacturing monopolies of Pharma cartels

Alice Desclaux
Alice Desclaux
7 months ago

New rising topics, important from an operational perspective, under “Perceptions by communities and impact”:

  • local perceptions of variants and impact on vaccines’ perceptions or choice to be/not to be vaccinated
  • reasons for refusing the 2nd dose, in the context of individual subjective risk balance
  • interpretations of covid cases occuring after vaccination, perceptions of the relationship between immunization and further health status
  • discourses and practices in context regarding compliance to preventive behaviors after vaccination
Alice Desclaux
Alice Desclaux
7 months ago

And regarding “uptake”: Ethical issues, incentives to vaccination and side-effects

Tusajigwe Erio
4 months ago

Hi all,
Adding on other topics already mentioned here, we can also brainstorm on

How do scientific controversies on vaccines efficacies and the mandatory to sign the consent form for vaccination affect general population perceptions and choices to vaccinate?

How lack of government transparency during the pandemic increases public distrust towards governments, health professionals, and western interventions in the local contexts of low and middle-income countries.  

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