While most people in Europe follow expert advice on immunisation, vaccine uptake rates are still too low, as recent measles outbreaks have illustrated.
Let’s Talk About Protection, published by the European Centre for Disease Prevention & Control (ECDC), is a sophisticated handbook to help health professionals communicate with patients who have questions about immunisation.
We’ve come long way from the traditional tactic of firing facts at the public and expecting the message to stick.
For a start, the guide advises doctors and other health professionals that listening is the first step in effective communication. It also splits the ‘public’ into a several sub-audiences with varying degrees of hesitancy, each of which requires a different approach.
In line with WHO Europe’s recently-published Guide to Tailoring Immunization Programmes, the ECDC document notes that unique messages – and messengers – are essential to improving vaccine uptake in hard-to-reach or under-served populations such as the Roma communities.
Immunisation managers and health professionals should draw on social marketing techniques when designing communication campaigns, using a range of channels – from phone and text messages, to social media and working with traditional broadcast and print outlets.
The content of messages should, it says, emphasise that opting out of vaccinating is socially unacceptable while giving more visibility to those who have been vaccinated. However, the authors also call for more focus on the factors influencing behaviour – such as access to immunisation services – rather than concentrating on the message.
Tools for doctors
The role of health professionals in immunisation remains highly valued – including by doctors themselves. But there have been questions in the past about whether doctors are equipped to address patient questions.
The ECDC’s new paper seeks to address this by including communication tips for doctors and answers to frequently-asked questions. Doctors are advised to tell stories as well as sharing scientific facts when discussing vaccines, and to leave the door open even when patients (or the parents of young patients) decide not to take their advice.
In addition, there is a dose of devastatingly straightforward advice for health professionals: like ‘lead by example’ by making sure your own vaccinations are up to date and in line with official recommendations.
After all, who would listen to a doctor that refuses to take their own advice?
Which vaccines should your child have?