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Bridging Trust and Health: the role of PR and Communications in national vaccination campaigns

Ọmọ́tọ́lá Akíndípẹ̀, External Relations Officer for the World Health Organisation and CIPR International committee member, reflects on the crititcal role played by public relations in a recent polio vaccination campaign.

In the global health landscape, safeguarding millions of people from infectious diseases extends beyond medical science and into Public Relations and communications. This important synergy was felt during the recent polio vaccination campaign in Angola between 8-11 of September 2023. With an ambitious target of immunizing over 5.4 million children, this campaign underscored the impact and added value that communications can have in such initiatives, particularly with influential organisations like the World Health Organization (WHO).

From the initial planning stages to the on-the-ground implementation, the role of PR and communications is vital. Aligning government bodies, partners, and the public towards a singular goal requires coherent and cohesive messaging. Indeed, well-strategised communications can enhance the campaign's visibility, fostering a sense of community participation that goes beyond geographical and linguistic barriers.

Equally significant is the role of communications during the campaign, a phase where real-time information dissemination and social communication become critical. In this digital age, social platforms serve as key tools to amplify the campaign's reach, offering a gateway to engage with a larger audience, addressing their concerns, and providing timely updates. Moreover, these platforms become shields in combating misinformation, a persistent threat that can potentially undermine the campaign's success.

In the Angolan polio campaign, the combined efforts of the government and partners such as UNICEF, saw WHO leverage its global reach and expertise in amplifying communications that were both inclusive and far-reaching. The integration of PR not only enhanced the campaign’s visibility but played a critical role in building trust, which fuels the success of any mass vaccination initiative.

Looking ahead, it is essential to retain and build upon this integrated communications approach. Future vaccination campaigns should prioritise establishing a centralised information hub, fostering collaboration between various stakeholders from the outset. Additionally, crafting human-centric narratives in national and local languages that resonate with the target audience can further bridge the gap between planning and successful execution. Moreover, it is important to intensify efforts to combat misinformation through a network of fact-checking and community engagement, ensuring the true essence and objectives of the campaign are not lost in a sea of falsehoods.

As we reflect on the recent strides made in Angola, the blueprint for success becomes evident. Leveraging the full potential of PR and communications, from the drawing board to the last day of vaccine campaign, can significantly augment the campaign's efficacy and reach. Let us carry forward this momentum, integrating communications as a central pillar in our work to foster a healthier, safer world.

Melissa Fleming, Under-Secretary-General for Global Communications at the United Nations spoke about the critical role of Public Relations in combatting the health impacts of mis- and dis-information in this year's Maggie Nally lecture, run by CIPR International. You can watch the lecture here.


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