Employing risk/benefit communication best practice: an evaluation of childhood immunization informational materials
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Although vaccinations have been an incredible public health achievement, these current successes are threatened by growing rates of vaccine hesitancy. Vaccine hesitancy presents numerous communication challenges, which underscores how poor communication can undermine vaccine acceptance in any setting. This case study uses publicly available childhood immunization informational webpages, retrieved through a simulated Google search, at several different search locations, as well as a purposive search of three Canadian health agency websites. This study found that while many of the examined pro-immunization webpages excel at providing crucial vaccine information, there remain many outstanding opportunities for improved communication and engagement with target populations. Moreover, anti-immunization webpages use several persuasive communication strategies that pro-immunization webpages do not. These include personal stories, referencing scientific studies, and employing an alarmist tone when discussing vaccine risks and ingredients. Recommendations for improved risk communication, and informed decision-making are offered: communicating honestly about benefits and safety risks; including using quantitative baseline and risk information; provide readers an opportunity to assess what outcomes matter most to them; making effective use of visual aids; providing authors’ qualifications; and pre-testing communications with target groups for reading levels and message effectiveness.