Multidisciplinary article published in Nature journal Scientific Reports

2022-06-08

Our Fellow, Elena Raffetti, together with Elena Mondino and Giuliano Di Baldassarre (Uppsala University), has recently published an article on "Epidemic risk perceptions in Italy and Sweden driven by authority responses to COVID-19" in the multidisciplinary Nature journal Scientific reports.

The article can be accessed on Nature's website, while a short interview with the main author is available below:

Elena Raffetti profile picture

1. Why is the study of public risk perception important?
 
The interplay between population characteristics, prompt response to the spreading, and preparedness of the health care system influence how a pandemic affects a population. Next to this, from past pandemics we know that the success of policies depends on risk perception and behavioral changes. For example, a high-risk perception is associated with the implementation of personal hygiene measures, adherence to national policies and people’s willingness to be vaccinated. As such, uncovering determinants of risk perception and how risk perception influences behaviors are essential steps to support the policies promoting public health and reducing disaster risk.
 
2. What are the main factors influencing the way we think about risks?
 
Our two papers (referring to another paper recently published - see below) highlight the important role of authorities. Authority response has a key role in influencing the epidemic risk perception. More restrictive and imposed measures in the Italian context are associated with a lower perceived authority knowledge and preparedness compared to Sweden, where the policies have been mainly based on recommendations. In turn, higher trust in authority influence people's willingness to be vaccinated. Next to this, our findings support the theory of lower risk perception among individuals with a traditionally higher status in society. Men, the elderly population and individuals with a higher income perceived a lower risk compared to women, younger generations and individuals with lower income.
 
3. How can we reduce the spread of disease outbreaks?
 
This is a complex matter. Despite pandemics have shaped human history, the risk of infectious disease outbreaks has increased during the last decades due to the growing human population and other animal-specific species, international mobility and the impact of human activities (e.g. deforestation, urbanization and global warming). Concurrently, technological development has contributed to improve responses to such crises. High-quality health care systems and fast vaccine production are prominent examples.
We do not know which (and when) will be the next pandemic or crisis but we know that it will happen. Here are seven pillars as lessons to learn from the current pandemic: i) implementation of early warning systems to avoid that an outbreak develops into an epidemic and a pandemic; ii) strengthening health care systems and supply chain with diversification; iii) international cooperation and strategic partnerships; iv) community engagement and communities as the center of the response to crises. v) more efficient ways to do research (from competitive to cooperative and complementary projects); vi) application of precautionary principles that considers multiple hazards; and vii) decrease of inequalities.

The other article mentioned by Elena in the interview has been recently published in the Scandinavian Journal of Public Health under the title "COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy in Sweden and Italy: The role of trust in authorities". The article is available on ResearchGate.