IOM: Vaccine Communication Slated for Revamp February 2, 2009Posted by Brandi Hight in Health Communications & Marketing, Prevention.
The Institute of Medicine today is hosting a meeting of stakeholders in Washington, D.C., to discuss updating the 1994 National Vaccine Plan. This document maps out the nation’s priorities in vaccine research, safety practices, and future goals. Because of the significant advances in vaccine development and world events since the mid-1990s (rise of the Internet, vaccine shortages, bioterrorism), the federal government’s vaccine priorities are sorely in need of an overhaul.
The meeting is the third of four the IOM will convene on vaccine priorities, with today’s session covering communication and education. Vaccine communications is a critical topic now, when a growing number of parents are choosing not to vaccinate their children due to safety concerns or philosophical objections. A 2006 JAMA article describes this phenomenon in detail, finding that more parents take advantage of vaccine opt-outs in states that offer nonmedical exemptions from vaccination requirements and these states experience higher rates of pertussis (whooping cough).
A 2008 vaccine draft plan includes much-needed sections on increasing communication about vaccine safety to help the public, providers and policymakers make more informed decisions. The IOM spells out the significance of getting it right:
“The importance of timely audience and message testing research to inform effective communications must not be underestimated. Uninformed strategies could be detrimental to public confidence and ultimately to vaccine coverage and control of vaccine-preventable diseases.”
Modern vaccine communication efforts must keep pace with new technology and pop culture (here’s a Slate commentary on an episode of Eli Stone that got many in vaccine community riled up). When some parents think Jenny McCarthy (Oprah clip) is just as trusted a source on vaccine risks as their pediatrician, the government should innovate its communications techniques to uphold buy-in in the U.S. vaccine system and ensure it continues to protect all of us.