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Health

  • 26 Apr 2022
  • 5 min read
  • by Camilla Rossi

Our role in vaccine acceptance

To mark World Immunization Week, Group Account Director Camilla Rossi reflects on the 'Long life for all' theme and questions what our role to play is in vaccine acceptance.

Now more than ever, with COVID-19 and an ongoing conflict in Europe, this World Immunization Week and its theme of ‘Long Life For All’[WHO] should make us reflect on what is our responsibility as marketers in supporting HCPs and the industry to tackle vaccine hesitancy.

The tendency is still to address all hesitancies in the same way, but what we want to explore is how we can create communications that answer each brand’s needs but are also focused on supporting HCPs in having more bespoke behavioural-change conversations with patients.

As healthcare marketers we should all play a part in promoting vaccine acceptance. So, how have we contributed so far and what is our pledge moving forward to ensure everyone gets a chance of a long life well lived?

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According to estimates by the World Health Organization (WHO), vaccination contributes to save 2 to 3 million lives globally, every year.[WHO] Despite this a high number of children or adults are not getting vaccinated, leading to outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases (and deaths) from diseases such as measles or pertussis.

To put it into context, if we take measles vaccination as an example, it resulted in a 73% drop in deaths between 2000 and 2018 and in the same period prevented an estimated 23.2 million deaths.[WHO] So why, despite the science and the numbers vaccine hesitancy is up there in the list of threats to global health?

The WHO working group has identified the key reasons for hesitancy and split them into three categories:[WHO]

  1. Confidence - the degree of trust in vaccines, healthcare systems, and policy makers

  2. Complacency – the perception of low risks from disease (which paradoxically arises because effective vaccines lead to low disease risk in the first place)

  3. Convenience - access challenges

So, what is our role and responsibility? How can we better support healthcare professionals and the industry at a time where misinformation finds fertile grounds on the web and social?

Ideally, we need to do everything possible to reduce the fear of vaccination, and science is the most compelling argument. But, how far does it go to change the behaviours of those individuals that are already reluctant? And can we dig deeper into the reasons for this reluctance?

Some teams in academia have been working on tools and measures to assess the psychological reasons of vaccination hesitancy – one of them is the 7C ‘vaccination readiness scale’ (formerly 5C)[ Geiger and Betsch]. This scale for example assesses multiple elements, amongst which, the trust in the effectiveness of a vaccine and health officials that promote it, the individual circumstances like cost/benefit and a new addition during COVID has been assessing conspiracy theory-type thinking and fake news impact. [Geiger et al.]

These tools have been mostly used in clinical studies and in the public health space to dig deep and truly understand and track the behaviours and psychological antecedents that lead to hesitancy over time. As a result, this provides not only a wealth of data but also targeted interventions.

Whereas this validated scale is mostly used for clinical purposes, what can we learn from it? Can we bear these key hesitancy principles in mind when we work on our next campaigns?

Naturally, we tend to address these hesitancy behaviours with scientific data and stats, because that’s considered the universal truth. While this is true from a pure scientific perspective, hesitancy is deeply rooted in human behaviours, and these facts are at risk of not being understood, or in some cases rejected. Our job, and our partners’ is to really focus on the human behaviours, which are the main barrier to a changed outcome.

When designing a communications plan for a vaccine brand, we ought to think about the real barriers for adoption beyond just differentiating from the competitor and strike the right balance between branded messages such as efficacy and safety data, disease awareness and adoption support. The latter means offering HCPs (unbranded) tools that could make the conversations with the reluctant new parents or more elderly patients for example, easier and more targeted to their concern, perhaps leveraging the elements of the hesitancy scale to offer message variations that will help overcome the different barriers.

This support to doctors and nurses in the everyday practice is absolutely crucial: they are the trusted, unbiased voice, even more so than they were before due to the pandemic[Ipsos Mori]. A strong collaboration with them, will not only help to build trust towards the brand/company but will help build trust towards the industry as a whole.

Whether we are working for specific brands or industry bodies, vaccine acceptance work is crucial, and it is our responsibility as storytellers and scientists to motivate our partners to carry on pushing even post COVID-19.

At Leith, we pride ourselves to play a role in vaccine acceptance to the wider public by addressing head-on the behavioural barriers to vaccination.

For IFPMA, our latest work has been focused on reminding the positive impact of vaccination through history into the future. COVID-19 has brought about, not only disruption in routine vaccinations, but also many opinions and at times misinformation, on the overall value of vaccines. The #VaccinesForLife campaign aims to tell the success story of vaccines and how research and innovation they will allow people to live fulfilling lives. See the work here.

For the Scottish Government, we wanted to target complacency towards the booster dose. The insight for this campaign was to acknowledge the fact that it was understandable to have questions on the need for the vaccine, so we leveraged the power of real patient stories to raise the urgency on getting the full vaccine coverage. See the full case study here.

For IPHA, in Ireland, our award-winning campaign showcased all the precious everyday moments that are made possible by vaccines. ‘Life. Developed by vaccines’ raised awareness on the overall value of vaccination from infancy to adulthood. Have a look here.

One last consideration.

The theme of this year’s World Immunisation Week ‘Long Life for All’ has the objective of highlighting the collective action needed to promote the use of vaccines to protect more people from disease.[WHO] So, as healthcare marketers our pledge should be to ensure that all the work that we do, whether it is disease awareness, brand or industry work should be geared towards creating a shift to vaccines for an overall population wellness vs. just focusing on the disease.

It may seem like a semantic nuance, but it is a huge behavioural shift to achieve, and we should all play a part in it because everyone deserves a chance to a long and healthy life.

Camilla Rossi

Camilla Rossi

Group Account Director

Camilla Rossi is a Group Account Director at Leith. Her experience and passion is in healthcare professionals communications having helped clients such as GSK and Boheringer Ingelheim to launch multiple global campaigns across various therapy areas, amongst which vaccines, respiratory and immunology.