COVID-19 Vaccine Communication
This week, The Atlantic reported how public health messaging about the COVID-19 vaccine has backfired. Instead of presenting a balanced optimism since the vaccines have been launched in the United States, the focus has been on negativity such as continued restrictions even after vaccination, new virus variants that may not be effected by the vaccine, and misleading debates about the inferiority of certain vaccines. The author presents five key fallacies and pitfalls that have affected messaging leading to an ineffective pandemic response. By explicitly addressing these and providing clear next steps, individuals can have hope that we will get through this pandemic.
Similarly, in this commentary, researchers address how essential it is to communicate effectively about emergency use authorization of vaccines to get the pandemic under control. They provide specific recommendations for effective emergency risk communication including creating partnerships with public health agencies, health care providers, government officials, and other influencers to provide transparent communication that addresses uncertainty and changing guidelines.
Transparent Communication Key to Addressing Pandemic
The theme of transparency was echoed by a team of 50 global researchers, physicians, and health advocates from 18 countries who met to discuss public health practices related to COVID-19. This commentary presents three common factors determined to be the most successful in providing precision public health (i.e., the best care for specific populations at a given point in time): (1) transparent and effective communication, (2) public health preparedness, and (3) centrally coordinated responses recognizing local and national needs. Focusing on effective communication, messengers need to be transparent to build trust and utilize active information management.
In this forum, the authors argue that medical ethicists may be able to communicate effectively with people to encourage them to cooperate with social expectations to mitigate the pandemic. By providing transparent decision-making, promoting truth-telling, encouraging rational adjudication of facts, and advocating the virtue of cooperation to maximize the common good, medical ethicists may be the most experienced to communicate with the public during the pandemic.
Adherence to COVID-19 Guidelines
Multiple studies have explored individuals’ adherence to recommended guidelines to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19. Consistently across studies, researchers have determined that effective communication is key to adherence. For example, in this study of 10 recommended behaviors, researchers clarified adherence frequency (anywhere from 13.6% to 94.4% depending on behavior), provided characteristics associated with greater adherence (e.g., personality traits, beliefs, current health), and suggested that governments need to clearly communicate adherence benefits, costs, and timelines to build trust and cooperation with citizens.
Additionally, in this social-ecological analysis of mask use during the pandemic, researchers determined decisions about mask-wearing are influenced by societal, interpersonal, community, and intrapersonal influences. The researchers conclude that understanding the multi-factorial influences is crucial for public health messaging development and dissemination.
COVID-19 Misinformation Still Problematic
With the surging COVID-19 misinfodemic, researchers argue that there needs to be more than just awareness of the propagation of false information about COVID-19. Individuals also need to disrupt the social and technological mechanisms of the misinformation. They propose five classes of network-based interventions: mobilizing champions, segmenting groups, inducing virality, alterating network dynamics, and redesigning platforms. Each proposed network intervention provides focused solutions for different aspects of the misinfodemic problem.
In this review, the author purports that believers in conspiracy theories widely promote misinformation about multiple topics that can have a dangerous effect on attitudes and behaviors for preventive measures. It is recommended that health care providers and public health officials educate the public by delivering clear, consistent, and transparent information to regain trust and debunk falsehoods.
In this study of community perceptions and knowledge of COVID-19, the authors determined that increased public health communication was needed to educate the public about misinformation and address vaccine hesitancy. Additionally, although the authors recommend using social media and internet outlets to address misconceptions, they also recognize there is a communication gap that must be acknowledged and addressed related to health disparities.