If I was planning the communications campaign for H1N1 and the flu vaccine I would have done things differently than what I’ve observed since the virus emerged as an issue.
While there are obvious challenges to managing a national/international issues campaign, I think too much focus was put on the deadly implications of the virus. The messages should have focused more on the importance of preventing colds and flu, in addition to preventing H1N1. Given that people tend to be far more reactive when it comes to health – e.g. take vitamin C when sick as opposed to before – focusing on prevention may have fallen on deaf ears. However, since the prime objective is to save lives, then I’m sure that broader prevention (hand washing, etc.) needed to be the number one message. Of course the vaccines are an important preventative tool but there has been too much focus on vaccinations which, given the current distribution method, has created a terrible bottleneck.
My communications plan would have touched on the following:
- focus on proactive health promotion to ensure people do the right things to fight and prevent colds and flu
- brief media about the fact that the H1N1 vaccine, when combined with other flu fighting tactics, helps protect people
- brief media about the benefits of proactive health prevention and the critical need to focus on the proactive health promotion message (media can’t help but use the killer-virus message and really only know what they know; helping them to focus on the right thing as opposed to the sensational thing would have helped)
- define high-risk groups and tell them what to do to protect themselves (messaging for this group should also help educate lower risk groups and media)
- highlight what the actual risks are (relatively few it seems) for the majority of people who are low risk (note that public health officials are now trying to push this message in an effort to calm people)
- use a message matrix to educate key influencers who will help to ensure message consistency at all levels across all regions
- ensure all levels of government are aligned (this last point might be impossible)
I know hindsight is 20/20 and it’s easy for me to sit in front of my laptop and comment but protecting people and saving lives shouldn’t be so confusing.