Close Menu

5 Ways to Use Sensitivity When Writing About Vaccines

We need to meet the anti-vax population where they are. Shouting “You’re wrong!” may make people dig in even harder.

Let this sink in: Diseases we’ve already eradicated may now be our biggest threats. That’s right: The World Health Organization lists vaccine hesitancy as one of the top health threats of 2019.

Knowledge Management: An Effective Tool to Stem Vaccine Hesitancy

And here’s where health communicators come in: Knowledge management is the process of collecting and curating knowledge and connecting people to it so they can act effectively. It is key to improving global health, according to K4Health, part of the Johns Hopkins Center for Communication Programs.

Contain Vaccination Misinformation

People who choose not to vaccinate their kids, sometimes called anti-vaxxers, are not malicious. Instead, their decision likely stems from misinformation and concern for their kids.

Misinformation about vaccine safety spreads like wildfire and morphs into gibberish, much like the phrase “I’ll take a banana” becomes “Mom loves hyenas” after a child’s game of “Telephone.”

Craft communications that speak to the underlying reasons people hesitate to vaccinate:

  • Acknowledge the fear: Don’t linger on the emotional aspect of this debate, but do acknowledge feelings like worry, nervousness and fear. Then respond with fact-based information.
  • Research the other side: Explore the anti-vax arguments. Then prepare evidence to refute it using plain language.

Anticipate Immunization-Related Questions

Predict what questions or concerns may exist in your community if or when there is an outbreak or a proposed vaccine-related policy. Prepare and share meaningful answers to questions such as:

  • Am I still safe if I was vaccinated 20 to 30 years ago?
  • Can my vaccinated child be in a public place?
  • My family is vaccinated, but should we wear masks to be safe?
  • If almost everyone I know was vaccinated, are we really vulnerable? Isn’t it just the unvaccinated who are at risk?
  • Does a policy that prevents unvaccinated children from entering a public place make health sense?
  • Why are religious or political exemptions from vaccinations a bad idea?

Find a New Way to Tell the “Vaccines-Are-Important” Story

Recently I wrote a vaccine-related blog post for a client. I stumbled on a CNN video that used a simple graph to show that the vaccine load (the amount of vaccine we give kids in each shot) has decreased significantly since the 1960s. The incidence of autism, however, continues to increase.

For me, it was an “Aha!” moment (we love Aha! moments at Aha Media Group), because it was a compelling argument I hadn’t heard before.

Ask your experts if they have new ways of presenting pro-vax information. Make it your mission to tell a story differently than it’s been told before.

Use Your Platform to Educate About the Benefit of Vaccines

Don’t be afraid to take a stand. Physicians take the Hippocratic Oath, part of which says: “I will prevent disease whenever I can, for prevention is preferable to cure.”

Your institution is armed with indisputable evidence. Share the importance of immunization on your institution’s many channels. For example:

  • Jump on news stories: Capitalize on news stories about outbreaks by publishing a relevant article or hanging a poster in waiting areas.
  • Present fact vs. fiction: Use myth-buster blog posts to refute false information.
  • Ask experts: Feature specialists and new research findings on podcasts and videos.
  • Dive into social channels: Post stories and data on your channels so followers will share them far and wide. Your pro-vaccination community will appreciate having clear, fact-based information they can easily share.
  • Use your publications: Write a feature article in your quarterly magazine about the importance of vaccinations.

Example: Cleveland Clinic used an infographic to show their stance on immunizations.

See the Example

Identify Pro-Immunization Spokespeople

One of the best ways to engage a weary audience is to speak their language, so find people fluent in how anti-vaxxers think:

  • Talk to your experts: Seek out the specialists who are relatable and eloquent, then feature them on your channels.
  • Find a former anti-vax parent or child who wasn’t vaccinated: Ask your team of primary care providers to identify parents or children who were once anti-vaxxers but have since become advocates. Then get permission to feature their story.
  • Encourage discussion: Help your pro-vaccine followers share fact-based arguments on social media. The more people talk about the health benefits of vaccines, the more likely vaccination hesitancy will become “taboo,” and behaviors will change.

What not to do: Do not give air time to personal stories of people who are anti-vaccination. There aren’t two “sides” to this debate. When you share an anti-vax story, you lend it credibility. That’s why Pinterest restricted anti-vaccine search results, and other social channels are trying to find ways to curb the spread of misinformation related to vaccines.

Do you need help communicating about why vaccines matter? We know how hard it is to keep on top of changing healthcare topics. Consider hiring us to help you stay on top of healthcare stories in the news.

And these posts will give you more inspiration for writing compelling health content:

Tags:

About Marti Harris

Marti Harris

For over two decades, Marti has been blending disparate concepts and facts into rich, colorful, targeted and optimized content.  Working within a variety of industries she balances big ideas with audience attributes to create better online content.

At Aha Media she serves as a writer and editor; she helps clients break through the ... More >