Healthcare PR professionals advise on swine flu vaccine messaging

Senior healthcare communicators urged the Government to send out clear messages to ensure widespread uptake of the swine flu vaccine, which becomes available later this year.

Swine flu vaccine: messaging advice
Swine flu vaccine: messaging advice

Tonic Life Communications CEO Scott Clark said there would be trepidation among the public about the vaccine following news coverage of its fast track testing. Clark's comments coincided with the results of a survey by website Mumsnet which showed that 48 per cent of pregnant women said they ‘probably' or ‘definitely' would not have the jab. The Daily Mail covered the story and ran with the headline: 'Pregnant women 'to shun swine flu vaccine'.'

‘It is essential for the public to understand that 'fast track' does not mean less testing,' said Clark. ‘It simply means that activities have been mobilised more rapidly and in a condensed time frame for the public good.'

He added: ‘The Department of Health can add value through communication by clearly and consistently articulating the rigour that is behind the testing and underscoring that vaccination, particularly for 'at risk groups', is a cornerstone in the effort to minimise the impact of this virus on society.'

Virgo Health joint CEO Angie Wiles said: ‘The key will be clear, consistent and focused messages delivered in a convincing, responsible and reassuring manner. it will also be critical to reassure without over claiming.'

Clark also suggested the DH needs to look at endorsement strategies from stakeholders that people can trust. ‘One of the problems has been a seemingly low level of support by corners of the medical community. Ultimately, the DH needs to truly understand and listen to the initial concerns expressed and try to address and mitigate them through robust and consistent communications.'

Aurora MD Claire Eldridge said the Deparment of Health will have to perform a balancing act if uptake is to be successful. 'It is a very tricky communications job for the DH and officials. On the one hand, they need to encourage at risk groups to be vaccinated and to do this they need to reassure these groups the vaccine is safe. However, too much talk of safety and not enough about efficacy could have the opposite effect. As seen with Tamiflu, the media will have a lot to do with helping the public decide what they want to do.'

Government scientific advisers have today revised predictions that 65,000 people could die from swine flu in the UK. A new figure of 19,000 deaths has been released as a more likely worst-case scenario.




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