Program on Science, Technology and Society at Harvard

Harvard Kennedy School of Government | Harvard University

Vaccine Hesitancy: Between Miracle and Mistrust

Sept 8-9, 2022,


Join the Trust in Science Project for two days of conversation on vaccine hesitancy and its relationship to trust in science. Professor Melissa Leach will deliver a keynote lecture from 5-7pm on Thursday, September 8 at Science Center A. The program on Friday, September 9 will include panel discussions on Safeguarding Information Integrity, Communities and Silos, Trust in Science in Comparative Perspective, and Overcoming Hesitancy. These will be interspersed with methodological showcases by researchers from Harvard and beyond.


Register here

Thursday, September 8 (Science Center A, Cambridge)

5:00 Keynote

Vaccine anxieties: (re) situating science and trust in a world of epidemics, exclusions and inequalities

Melissa Leach (Director, Institute of Development Studies, University of Sussex)

About the Speaker ⬇︎

Professor Melissa Leach is a social anthropologist and since 2014 has been Director of the Institute of Development Studies at the University of Sussex, U.K. She co-founded and co-led the ESRC STEPS Centre and has led many interdisciplinary , policy-engaged research partnerships in Africa and beyond, exploring the politics of science, knowledge and citizen/lay engagement around various issues of health, environment and technology. This has included longstanding interests in vaccines (including the 2007 book with James Fairhead, Vaccine Anxieties) and on epidemics, both recently updated in work on Ebola and Covid-19, including current co-leadership of a Wellcome Trust Collaborative Award on Pandemic Preparedness in Africa and of the Social Science in Humanitarian Action Platform. She is a Fellow of the British Academy, Academy for Social Sciences and Academia Europaea and an International Science Council Foundational Fellow.


Vaccines have always provided a potent lens for reflecting on the relations between science, technology and publics. Amidst rising public health and political concerns with vaccine hesitancy, most recently in the context of Covid-19, discourses around distrustful publics are heightening, adding to those around publics as ignorant or confused. But when controversies around vaccines erupt, or people loudly or quietly refuse vaccination for themselves or others, what is actually going on? What dimensions of science and trust are at stake – and what else? How should we understand vaccine hesitancy in a contemporary world increasingly pervaded by epidemics and infodemics, inequalities and exclusions? Through an updated Vaccine Anxieties framework, and through cases from MMR and polio to Ebola and Covid-19 in settings across the U.S., U.K. and several African countries, I will offer reflections on the bodily, social, national and geo-political dimensions of interconnected vaccine demand and supply issues. These cases point to a re-situating of vaccine-related forms of scientific knowledge, practice and institution in wider fields of socio-political meaning and experience, and as subject to plural framings, and to a re-situating of trust in terms of the relations between framings. Epidemics, inequalities and exclusions are, I will suggest, rendering framings more frictional, with profound implications for both public health and the fostering of inclusive societies and polities more broadly.


Daniel Carpenter (Department of Government, Harvard)

Bio ⬇︎

Professor Carpenter graduated from Georgetown University in 1989 with distinction in Honors Government and received his doctorate in political science from the University of Chicago in 1996. He taught previously at Princeton University (1995-1998) and the University of Michigan (1998-2002). He joined the Harvard University faculty in 2002. Beginning July 2021, he will serve as Faculty Director of the Social Sciences at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, a position he also held from 2013 to 2020. Professor Carpenter’s research on petitioning appears in his book Democracy by Petition: Popular Politics in Transformation, 1790-1870 (Harvard University Press, 2021), which was awarded the J. David Greenstone Prize of the American Political Science Association for the best book in history and politics in the past two calendar years; “L’éruption patriote: The Revolt against Dalhousie and the Petitioning Explosion in Nineteenth-Century French Canada,” Social Science History (2019, with Doris Brossard); “Recruitment by Petition: American Antislavery, French Protestantism, English Suppression,” Perspective on Politics (September 2016); “Paths of Recruitment: Rational Social Prospecting in Petition Canvassing,” American Journal of Political Science (2018, with Clayton Nall and Benjamin Schneer), which was awarded the AJPS Best Article Award for 2018; “Party Emergence Through Petitions: The Whigs and the Bank War of 1832-34” Studies in American Political Development (October 2015, with Benjamin Schneer), and “When Canvassers Became Activists: Antislavery Petitioning and the Political Mobilization of American Women,” American Political Science Review (August 2014, with Colin D. Moore), which was awarded the Mary Parker Follett Prize of the American Political Science Association for best article in political history of 2014. Professor Carpenter’s previous scholarship on regulation and government organizations appears in Reputation and Power: Organizational Image and Pharmaceutical Regulation at the FDA (Princeton, 2010), winner of the Allan Sharlin Memorial Award of the Social Science History Association; and of The Forging of Bureaucratic Autonomy: Reputations, Networks and Policy Innovation in Executive Agencies, 1862-1928 (Princeton, 2001), winner of the Gladys Kammerer Prize of the American Political Science Association and the Charles Levine Prize of the International Political Science Association. With David Moss of Harvard Business School, he is the author and co-editor of Preventing Regulatory Capture: Special Interest Influence in Regulation and How to Limit It (Cambridge, 2013). He is a Guggenheim Fellow, a Radcliffe Institute Fellow (2007-2008), and Fellow at the Stanford Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences (2003-2004), as well as an elected fellow of the National Academy of Public Administration. His articles have appeared in the American Political Science Review, American Journal of Political Science, Studies in American Political Development, Science, the New England Journal of Medicine, the Journal of the American Medical Association, the Lancet, and the Bulletin of the History of Medicine, among other venues. His public writings have appeared in The New York Times, Le Monde, the Washington Post, Boston Globe, Washington Monthly and other outlets.


Wilmot Godfrey James (Institute for Social and Economic Research and Policy, Columbia)

Bio ⬇︎

Wilmot James is a Senior Research Scholar at the Institute for Social and Economic Research and Policy (ISERP) at Columbia University and an Honorary Professor of Public Health at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg. He conducts research on pandemic response and biosecurity, convenes high-level meetings on planetary threats, leads the Center for Pandemic Research at ISERP and is an Associate Director in the Program in Vaccine Education at the Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons. Wilmot co-convenes the Schmidt Futures supported Columbia-Witwatersrand Vaccine Safety and Confidence-Building (VacSafe) Working Group. He serves as a senior consultant in biosecurity to the Washington DC based Nuclear Threat Initiative Bio; and as a consultant to the Africa Center for Disease Control (Africa-CDC) on behalf of the Global Partnership Signature Initiative to Mitigate Biological Threats in Africa. Wilmot was previously a Member of Parliament (South Africa) and opposition spokesperson on health, trade and industry, schooling and higher education. He served on the Board of Trustees for the Ford Foundation between 1996 and 2008. He currently serves on the Advisory Board of Resolve to Save Lives. Wilmot is the author and/or editor of 17 books that include the policy-oriented Vital Signs: Health Security in South Africa (2020) and a co-edited collection of Nelson Mandela’s presidential speeches Nelson Mandela In His Own Words (2003) given to the late President on his 85 th birthday.



Sheila Jasanoff (Program on Science, Technology & Society, Harvard Kennedy School)


Friday, September 9 (Science and Engineering Complex, Allston)

9:00 Safeguarding Information integrity

Chair: Sam Weiss Evans (Program on Science, Technology & Society, Harvard Kennedy School, and School of Engineering and Applied Sciences)
Salil Vadhan (School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, Harvard)
Marinka Zitnik (Department of Biomedical Informatics, Harvard)
Aliaksandr Herasimenka (Oxford Internet Institute, Oxford)
Austin Clyde (Argonne National Laboratory)

  10:30 Coffee and Showcases

Showcase Groups:

Ensuring privacy in COVID-19 epidemiological mobility data sets
Wanrong Zhang, Koissi Savi, Nishant Kishore

Explainable AI for Promoting Trust in Science
Marinka Zitnik, Hima Lakkaraju

 Tracking anti-vaccination & pro-vaccination narratives in real time: audiences, engagement, and ranking
Aliaksandr Herasimenka

10:50 Lightning Talk

Aggregate DP for mobility datasets in COVID-19 research
Nishant Kishore (Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics, Department of Epidemiology)

11:30 Communities and Silos

Chair: Evelynn Hammonds (History of Science, Africa and African American Research, T. Chan School of Public Health)
Elizabeth Suhay (Department of Government, American University)
Joan Donovan (Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy, Harvard Kennedy School)
Simar Bajaj (History of Science, Harvard)
Gabriel Dorthe (Program on Science, Technology & Society, Harvard Kennedy School, and the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies, Potsdam)
Seth Mnookin (Science Writing, Comparative Media Studies/Writing, MIT)

1:00 Lunch and Showcases

Showcase groups:

Seeing is Believing? How Data Visualization Affects Trust in Science
Carolina Nobre, Johanna Beyer

Time trends between vaccination coverage and voting patterns before and during the COVID-19 pandemic
Minttu Rönn

Trust in Science during the Vaccine Phase of the COVID-19 pandemic in the U.S.
Matthew Baum, Roy Perlis, Mauricio Santillana

Identifying and Correcting Confirmation Bias in Model Selection
Elena Glassman

1:20 Lightning Talk

Time trends between vaccination coverage and voting patterns before and during the COVID-19 pandemic
Minttu Rönn (Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health

2:00 Trust in science in comparative perspective

Chair: Sheila Jasanoff (Program on Science, Technology & Society, Harvard Kennedy School)
Wilmot James (Institute for Social and Economic Research and Policy, Columbia)
Kevin Croke (Department of Global Health and Population, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health)
Gabriela Soto Laveaga (History of Science, Harvard)
Melissa Leach (Institute of Development Studies, University of Sussex)

3:30 Coffee and Showcases

Showcase Groups

Interviewing elites about genomics research and trust in science
Jennifer Hochschild, Liz Suhay

Countering COVID-19 Misinformation Via WhatsApp in South Africa
Kevin Croke

Bodies of Suspicion: Distrust in Science – Online and Beyond
Gabriel Dorthe

3:50 Lightning Talk

Interviewing Scientific Experts and Political Elites: How Open-ended Should the Conversation Be?
Jennifer Hochschild (Government and American Studies, Harvard)

4:30 Overcoming Hesitancy

Chair: Francesca Dominici (Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, and Harvard Data Science Initiative)
Matthew Baum (Harvard Kennedy School)
Karen Huang (McCourt School of Public Policy, Georgetown)
Daniel Wikler (Global Health and Population, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health)
Ananya Banerjee (Department of Epidemiology, Biostatistics and Occupational Health, McGill)

6:00 END

Hosted by the Trust in Science Project, a collaboration between the STS Program and the Harvard Data Science Inititative.