How to shape public opinion and influence people

Urmas Volmer

The official WHO documentation includes a public guideline on launching vaccination campaigns. The document outlines the main course of action on how to encourage people to get vaccinated; how to build media presence and shape public opinion on immunization; how to impact different communities and social groups; how to involve politicians, experts, and influencers; how to engage on social media in order to influence vaccination decisions. In short, how to launch the plan, the implementation of which we are currently witnessing every day.
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The official WHO documentation includes a public guideline on launching vaccination campaigns. The document outlines the main course of action on how to encourage people to get vaccinated; how to build media presence and shape public opinion on immunization; how to impact different communities and social groups; how to involve politicians, experts, and influencers; how to engage on social media in order to influence vaccination decisions. In short, how to launch the plan, the implementation of which we are currently witnessing every day. 

These materials which are being spread publicly, are good examples illustrating the current situation. The first reference is to the campaign guideline, the second one refers to a table that allows monitoring the campaign implementation. I wonder if such a tool is also being used and filled in by our state agencies, how many people have authorized access to this information, and how big the campaign budget is?

While refraining from making value judgments and comments, I trust that the readers will come to their own conclusions. The aim of this article is not fearmongering, but providing clarity and stating facts. Knowing that there is an official plan of action designed to influence our daily decisions helps us better understand the present circumstances and make informed and balanced decisions regarding our well-being and health.

Excerpts from both the guideline and the datasheet are presented below.

Acceptance and demand for COVID-19 vaccines: interim guidance, 31 January 2021

3. Implementation of mass media plan

For the introduction of any new vaccine, the population needs to receive accurate, systematic information about the vaccine, such as eligible populations and when and where to get the vaccine. Mass media plans will include focused messages through short and simple public service announcements, news stories, positive testimonials by trusted representatives, features, etc., which will be delivered via radio, TV, and print material, among other means. It is important to build trust among people about the vaccine and to communicate the benefits and safety of vaccines. Dedicated radio and TV programmes can be produced and disseminated, and can feature experts talking about the subject matter, as well as trusted opinion leaders receiving the vaccine. These will be complemented by community engagement/social mobilization activities and interpersonal communication by health workers and others. The channels of communication will be determined by evidence and will be based on considerations such as access, use, availability, credibility of sources, and trust. It will be important to keep credible, accessible, information flowing so that misinformation does not take hold.

6. Advocacy and stakeholder engagement

When a new vaccine is being introduced in the country, the public will have questions and concerns regarding the vaccine and its effectiveness, safety, previous use, cost, etc. Advocacy meetings and events with key stakeholders in the country are crucial for demand generation. Key stakeholders include parliamentarians, the interagency coordinating committee (ICC), the national immunization technical advisory group (NITAG), relevant line ministries and departments, other medical units (such as infectious diseases and those that work with adult and older adult populations), medical and nursing associations, other public health associations, civil society organizations, donors, media, and others. Advocacy at national level will be very important for proper budget allocation for COVID-19 vaccine introduction, including adequate funds for demand generation activities. Advocacy meetings also should be organized with relevant stakeholders at subnational levels. At community level, advocacy with community influencers, community leaders, religious leaders, and others will need to be done to create an enabling environment and to garner support for COVID-19 vaccines. An advocacy kit, including frequently asked questions (FAQ), factsheets and relevant materials, will need to be developed and disseminated to build the commitment of in-country partners and stakeholders for COVID-19 vaccine introduction.

Due to the complexity of the introduction of COVID-19 vaccines there is a special need to closely engage national and subnational media personnel before, during and after introduction. Advocacy to media personnel on the rationale of COVID-19 vaccine introduction, the vaccines’ safety and effectiveness, and their roles and responsibilities in reporting correct and accurate information is crucial for successful introduction of COVID-19 vaccine.

Acceptance and demand for COVID-19 vaccines: communications plan template, 31 January 2021

  1. Social data collection and use: This will include review of existing social data, which could be information from risk communication and community engagement (RCCE) studies and surveys or formative research that needs to be conducted for understanding community risk perception for COVID-19 vaccines, acceptance of vaccine, influencers etc.

4. Social media monitoring and misinformation management: Regular tracking of information on both social media and mainstream media from early on and quick response to mitigate rumours; disseminating accurate information will be critical to maintain public trust in COVID-19 vaccines.

5. Crisis communications: Standard operating procedures (SOPs) and protocols will need to be developed for addressing any possible adverse events following immunization (AEFI). AEFI communication core team should be established, which could be members from the ASCM committee, and SOPs should be established for processes for evaluating a situation and determining actions required, subsequent efforts to monitor the situation, and agreement on further communications.

6. Advocacy and stakeholder engagement: This section may include advocacy activities, events and materials to build the commitment of in-country partners and stakeholders for COVID-19 vaccine introduction. Budget for events should include all costs for orientations to key stakeholders, printing of advocacy kits, venue costs etc.

7. Community engagement and social mobilization: This should include all social mobilization activities and efforts targeted to community leaders and stakeholder groups who will deliver interpersonal communication (IPC) messages, distribute print materials and engage with communities in relation to COVID-19 vaccine introduction.
7.6. Organize or leverage public events: sports competitions, carnivals, music and film showing to engage communities


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