The Union Health Ministry on Thursday released a communication strategy to support the COVID-19 vaccine rollout in India that seeks to disseminate accurate and transparent information by alleviating apprehensions and ensuring its acceptance. The 88-page document details information to guide national, state and district level communication activities to enable information about COVID-19 vaccines and vaccination process reaches all people, across all states in the country.
"The communication strategy that supports the COVID-19 vaccines rollout in India seeks to disseminate timely, accurate and transparent information about the vaccine(s) to alleviate apprehensions about the vaccine, ensure its acceptance and encourage uptake," it said. According to the document, the strategy aims at managing and mitigating any potential disappointment expressed by unmet demand for the vaccine or 'eagerness' amongst people and addressing vaccine 'hesitancy' that could arise because of apprehensions around vaccine safety, efficacy apart from any other myths and misconceptions.
It also aims to provide information on potential risks and mitigate unintended crisis during the introduction and rollout. "The strategy also seeks to build trust and enable greater confidence in the COVID-19 vaccine amongst all people by employing transparency in communication, while also managing any mis/disinformation and rumours around it," it said.
The Health Ministry intends to achieve this in three ways. Firstly, using the social influence or endorsements from experts and official voices to spell out the process of immunisation (where, how, who, when date and time);emphasise on the safety and efficacy of vaccines and explain the decision to conduct the drive in a phased manner. Secondly, the ministry intends to establish a National Media Rapid Response Cell (NMRRC) under its ambit to ensure preparedness through media monitoring and social listening to respond in real time. It will also unfold media and public discourse through extensive monitoring of print, electronic and digital media.
Thirdly, this will be achieved by involving community mobilisers and frontline workers to engage with the community at various levels through community consultations, faith leaders and religious meetings, engaging youth, civil-society organisations, self-help groups, panchayats and other community-based platforms. The four key areas that will be addressed as part of interventions under the strategy are — giving information on COVID-19 vaccines, addressing vaccine hesitancy, building vaccine eagerness along with maintaining and sustaining COVID appropriate behaviours.
In case of any adverse effects following immunisation (AEFI), the strategy emphasises on supporting the mobilisers and health workforce in managing crisis situations by appealing to the community to stay calm while waiting for a proper diagnosis and prevent aggressive behaviour against health workers.