Government bid to reassure public over swine flu vaccine

Department of Health calls for agency help to ensure success of vaccination programme.

Speculation: about safety of swine flu vaccines
Speculation: about safety of swine flu vaccines

The Department of Health is looking for a PR agency to combat mounting public concerns that the H1N1 vaccine is not safe to be used.

The DH has called for support to help tackle negative headlines ahead of the rollout of its swine flu vaccination programme.

The move comes in a week when NHS Salford told PRWeek it saw a 40 per cent decrease in uptake of the HPV vaccine following the misreported death of a young girl after receiving the cervical cancer jab.

The swine flu vaccines are set to be distributed later this month to 9.5 million people identified as being in the clinical risk groups.

The vaccine, produced by GlaxoSmithKline, was licensed by the European authorities last month.

The DH has already issued a brief to agencies on the COI roster.

The appointed agency will have to contend with persistent media stories that the vaccine is unsafe because it was fast-tracked following the emergence of the epidemic earlier this year.

The media relations brief will aim to raise awareness of the vaccine's availability and to encourage uptake by increasing confidence in the vaccine among priority groups and the general public.

NHS Salford head of comms Karl Brookes said: 'You only have to look at last week to see how two or three days of adverse headlines can set back the case for vaccination. The campaign will have to work around the general noise and volatility about swine flu and vaccinations.'

Red Door Communications MD Catherine Warne said: 'The major challenge will be overcoming sensationalist press reporting, where vaccination is blamed regardless of the cause of death, followed by endless speculation about whether vaccines are safe.'

GSK is handling its communications for the vaccine inhouse.

PRESS HEADLINES

25 August: 'Half of GPs refuse swine flu vaccine over testing fears' - Daily Mail

15 August: 'Swine flu jab link to killer nerve disease' - Daily Mail

27 July: 'Britain "taking gamble" on swine flu vaccination' - Metro

26 July: 'Fast-tracked swine flu vaccine will be safe, officials insist' - The Guardian

18 July: 'Safety questions over swine flu jab' - The Independent.

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