Here at We ❤ Health Literacy Headquarters, we’re eagerly awaiting a COVID-19 vaccine — and bracing for the challenge of communicating about it when it finally arrives. So the question on our minds this week is: How can we start building public trust in a COVID vaccine before we have all the info?
Try these tips to lay some solid groundwork for COVID vaccine communication:
- Resist the urge to overpromise. The best way to avoid confusing U-turns in health messaging is to avoid going beyond the facts in the first place. Politicians may bluster about a still-hypothetical vaccine that’ll be X percent effective, or ready in Y months. But as the premature hype around experimental treatments has shown, jumping the gun on health claims leads to a loss of public trust in the long run. So beware of spreading vaccine news that might be too good to be true.
- Be honest about what we don’t know. At this stage in vaccine development, there are lots of unknowns. How long will immunity from a COVID vaccine last? Will the vaccine totally prevent a COVID infection or just make the illness less serious? Unfortunately, we just don’t know. So be up front about what researchers are still figuring out — remember, transparency in health communication is a good thing!
- Stick to solid ground. You can still give your readers plenty of hopeful, helpful information about the search for a COVID vaccine. For example, experts agree that we can and will make an effective vaccine for this virus — something we haven’t been able to do for some other viruses, like HIV or herpes. So keep reassuring your readers that a vaccine is in the works. And while it won’t mean an instant, magical return to a pre-COVID world, an effective vaccine will certainly be a major step in the right direction.
- Build trust in the process. One reason vaccine development takes so long is that we have strong systems in place to make sure vaccines are safe. But with scientists and researchers speeding up that timeline, people may worry that they’re skipping important steps. So how can we help people feel confident? Explain the process! Tell your readers about the 3 phases of vaccine trials — and stress that while companies are finding ways to combine phases, they’re not skipping any key safety steps.
- Go back to basics. While we’re all waiting for more concrete info about an actual vaccine, now’s a great time to raise awareness about some basic vaccine concepts. So take this chance to tell your readers all about antibodies. Or explain why getting a vaccine helps protect everyone around you, too.
The bottom line: Follow these tips to start communicating now about a future COVID-19 vaccine.