Vaccines and mental health loom large on horizon for health comms this summer

Healthcare comms has never had a higher profile than over the past year, but as the messaging shifts, what are the next priorities for the sector?

Don’t take your foot off the pedal on COVID-19 vaccine comms, warns Julia Bainbridge
Don’t take your foot off the pedal on COVID-19 vaccine comms, warns Julia Bainbridge

The full impact of COVID-19 will take years to fully realise. But as clients task us to think through the opportunities and challenges for the remainder of 2021 – and as we plan against a backdrop of unknowns – here are five themes that healthcare comms professionals should understand.

Summer 2021 represents optimism, fun and freedom…

…but I would be mindful of flippancy. We lived through a collective experience, but it has hit us all differently, so segmentation, targeting, using the right – authentic – spokespeople, and message testing have never been so important.

In terms of Government comms, when COVID-19 starts to feel like a near-distant memory come July and we see inevitable hyperbolic discounting, we will need to make a step change in the way in which we remind people to adhere to social distancing and other measures, if required.

Longer-term scenario planning

While the summer may bring sunshine for some, we must not be complacent as to what might be on the horizon. We do not yet know what the economic fallout from the pandemic might bring in terms of job loss, nor what the flu season will look like or even a possible third wave of COVID-19. It would be remiss for brands not to plan for a number of scenarios to ensure sensitivity with wherever we may face come the autumn

Mental health action

The issue of health inequality is excruciatingly pertinent when it comes to mental health. There is anticipated to be a significant increase in mental health needs over the coming months and years as a result of the pandemic, particularly due to the impact of social restrictions and lockdown measures. One study found that demand for adult mental health services and child and adolescent mental health services could rise by as much as 40 per cent and 60 per cent respectively. Mental health is not a tick-box arena. If leaning in, do it with integrity, collaborate with a partner or provide a genuine solution.

Vaccines: what next?

The UK vaccine rollout has been a huge success, with months of work behind the scenes to ensure the communication is relevant and effective. As it moves on from speaking to those most vulnerable to COVID-19 and to younger cohorts, it is important that we don’t take our foot off the pedal. And as we now need to speak to younger audiences, we must acknowledge their specific motivations and barriers and flex our comms accordingly.

Health and climate change are linked

It has never been more important to stop thinking of climate change and human health as separate issues. Brands and organisations should consider where they can be transformative in addressing environmental impact on health through products, campaigns or initiatives, but without ‘greenwashing’.

Julia Bainbridge is partner and founder, health and behaviour change unit, at Freuds

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