3rd Global Meeting on Implementing New and Under-utilized Vaccines, 16-18 June 2009
Workgroup 4. Lessons learned from the field: Health risk and crisis communications for real or perceived risks due to vaccination
Risk communication for vaccine programmes is important - the public appreciate receiving information in particular when there are concerns over the safety of a medical intervention. Furthermore, the early recognition and treatment of side effects may reduce their consequences, and identifying individual factors such as allergy or immune deficiency might influence the decision to vaccinate. The immunization programme is more effective when an "uncertainty" is stated, and when risks are qualified as much as science permits. Trust is a key component of the exchange of information at every level.
It is important to be prepare risk communication in advance and have a plan of action, since much of the information by the media can be biased and inaccurate. It is important to provide the key facts to counteract arguments and support the health workers and the public, however, sometimes it is best not to respond to a "rumour" since discussion can stimulate more controversy.
Main Topics of Discussion
- There is a sense of distrust and suspicion towards governments when introducing new vaccines which can lead to a communications gap in the country.
- Poor or non-existent communications around adverse events following immunization (AEFI) can lead to a reluctance by health authorities to make "unpopular" decisions and a failure to address public fears.
- There is scepticism for some new vaccines by the public due to myths, concerns about new technology (combined vaccines), and a lack of information and awareness of disease burden and benefits of the vaccine compound this problem.
- Accelerating introduction of new vaccines in developing countries has increased the need for these countries to manage vaccine safety issues. It also highlights the importance of sharing country experiences.
- In several countries and Regions, there are active anti-vaccination movements that have been started for a variety of interests.
- Regions and country teams need to be better prepared to proactively engage in risk communication in order to respond to stakeholders’ concerns about AEFIs and the public's refusal to be vaccinated.
- Build the public's trust in immunization by actively engaging high-visibility vaccination champions and strengthening independent scientific groups at country level.
- Expand risk and crisis communication capacity at the global, regional and country levels by encouraging the development of country risk and crisis communication protocols, and considering including roles for caregivers, paediatricians, NITAGs, etc.
- Include provision for risk communication in the new vaccines introduction plan.
- Include communication issues in immunization workshops, and train staff at all levels on risk communication while highlighting the risk of suspending immunization programmes.
- Support monitoring of AEFI, investigation, causality analysis and risk communication.
- Encourage information sharing between regions and countries on events, steps to be taken and other important areas.