Immunisation 2.0: the dawn of engaging, evidence-based communication

There's something interesting going on in the world of immunisation and this time it's in the communications world rather than in the lab.

This week, I've noticed a series of apparently unconnected events and publications turning the spotlight on the need for new thinking in how we engage with the public about vaccination.

The ECDC's Free-Thinkes meeting in Stockholm looks like a case in point. And the WHO's guides for doctors and parents are useful, practical resources to help people through conversations about vaccines.

Professional medical associations are, of course, in favour of immunisation but not all doctors remember their brief brush with immunology at medical school. Fewer still have ready answers for parents armed with internet-propagated myths and memes.

That's why it's good to see some medical schools developing curricula which help doctors to talk to patients about vaccines. This is a giant leap beyond the traditional model of arming them with data.

They Mayo Clinic has also produced a guide for doctors confronted by 'vaccine concerned' patients and the ECDC recently unveiled a comprehensive new paper on public trust in immunisation.

New thinking

Clearly, it has dawned on us that the old ways of firing facts at the public and hoping it sticks were not good enough. There seems to be a growing realising that doctors and public health experts need to:

(a) Engage with various publics on their terms and in a language they understand

(b) Look outside medical and health sciences for theory and methods to support this, and

(c) Use new media as tools for this engagement, even if it means a revolution in how we approach communication

I studied science communication 10 years ago and all of this was part of the core knowledge. Yes, it was still a young discipline but, by borrowing from psychology, social sciences and media studies, there was already a large body of knowledge out there which needed to be harnessed and applied to real-world problems like immunisation.

The only mystery is why it took the evidence-obsessed public health community so long to embrace evidence-based communication; to treat public engagement as a sophisticated science.

There is still plenty of work to do to understand how we think about issues like risk, and to figure out the right balance between science and storytelling. But we're on the right road...

[I edit Vaccines Today. Check out our series of articles and videos on public trust in immunisation]

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