Challenges and approaches for effective communication around the benefit and risk balance of vaccination


A recent ECDC study shows that communication around the benefit and risk balance of vaccination is a complex undertaking and therefore requires a mix of different communication approaches to ensure impact across multiple audiences.

Vaccination acceptance and uptake are likely to be enhanced through the use of several good practices, by producing better knowledge and understanding about the benefit and risk balance of vaccination. Based on a literature review and stakeholder consultations, this study highlights a set of good practices and approaches:

  • Monitoring risk perceptions of the population and adapting communication accordingly.
  • Addressing misinformation on vaccine risks with pre-bunking and de-bunking interventions.
  • Illustrating facts through data visualisation.
  • Transparency in communication on vaccine benefits and potential risks.
  • Use of narratives and conveying emotional values through personal stories.
  • Exploring the potential uses of innovative technologies, such as chatbots, virtual reality, and gamification.
  • Providing support materials and training to those engaging in vaccine conversations.

Despite the importance of vaccines, numerous surveys done in EU/EEA countries show that the concerns of some people regarding the safety of vaccines as well as the perception of low effectiveness pose a major challenge to vaccine acceptance and uptake.

The COVID-19 pandemic further highlighted the challenges of communication around vaccines, in the context of new vaccines being rolled out and evolving evidence.

This further exacerbated the already challenging task that public health authorities face in ‘peacetime’ to communicate effectively about vaccines.

The report also highlights some of the challenges that need to be considered when planning and implementing benefit/risk communication interventions:

  • People’s perceptions about the risks and benefits of vaccines vary widely in terms of the size and nature of risks and benefits.
  • Fast evolving scientific evidence on new vaccines poses challenges for effective communication on uncertainties.
  • Weighing the risks and benefits of vaccination can require a relatively high degree of health literacy and numeracy.
  • Vaccine mis- and disinformation are widespread, and they compete with the communication initiatives from public health authorities.
  • Migrant populations and ethnic minorities often have lower levels of trust in public health institutions. They are also more difficult to reach via the standard communication channels most often used by public health authorities.
  • Resource constraints can impact the capacity of some public health authorities to communicate as effectively as they would like.