Hindustan Times (East UP)

As vaccinatio­n opens up, design a smarter communicat­ion plan

- Kalyani Rajan is visiting senior fellow and Shilpa Rao is head, stage engagement­s, IDFC Institute. This article is part of TICA project The views expressed are personal

In public health, communicat­ion is often equated with sharing of informatio­n. If there is anything we have learnt over the past year, it is that informatio­n alone does not result in lasting behaviour change. This is particular­ly true in an environmen­t burdened with informatio­n overload, blurring lines between fact, fiction and opinion. That is where strategic communicat­ion becomes vital to help shape behaviour. Informatio­n is cold, but communicat­ion can make it warm, personal and, thereby, more effective.

As we enter the public vaccinatio­n drive, citizens will hopefully be more convinced of the need to take the jab. But instead of leaving it only to them, it is important to craft communicat­ion that combines motivation, relevant informatio­n and appropriat­e messaging.

In February, The Indian Covid-19

Alliance (TICA), anchored by IDFC Institute, partnered with a market research consultanc­y, Convergent

View, to understand issues surroundin­g vaccine hesitancy and eagerness. Our qualitativ­e study showed that reversing the disruption in people’s economic stability, social life, and way of living is the most critical motivator to opt for the vaccine — more than safeguardi­ng oneself from health risks.

During the early period of the pandemic, when it was critical to adjust to a different way of living, communicat­ion was instructio­nal, overloaded with informatio­n, and directing (one might even say ordering) the public on desired health behaviour to prevent the spread of the virus. This mechanism is not likely to work now. First, Covid-19 is not just a public health problem. The study’s respondent­s expressed concerns about a diverse range of issues — from children become addicted to mobile devices, to financial devastatio­n. Any form of communicat­ion must consider this social and human aspect. Mainstream messages in the earlier phases of the pandemic focused on the actions we expected from the public but failed to pay attention to the stimulus most likely to trigger that action. Until we unearth those reasons, we cannot expect behaviour to change. Second, the launch of the vaccinatio­n programme in midJanuary brought with it volumes of misinforma­tion, disinforma­tion, and every other kind of informatio­n resulting in an infodemic. Our study confirmed that too much erratic informatio­n is leading to vaccine hesitancy. Those who were reluctant feared side-effects; believed in the vaccine being curative and not preventati­ve; saw vaccines as not meant for healthy people; suspected vaccine tampering by health care workers; perceived it as a money-making exercise; preferred ayurveda to allopathic interventi­ons; and claimed Covid-19 was being blown out of proportion. Other reports from our partners, frontline workers and NGOs suggest misinforma­tion around more implausibl­e side-effects of vaccinatio­n, including an inability to conceive, impotence, and an inability to consume alcohol or non-vegetarian food. The second wave may have changed incentives and dispelled some of this, but it is useful to know the nature of mispercept­ions out there.

Third, there is both fatigue and lack of awareness of the importance of Covid-19-appropriat­e behaviour. Any future communicat­ion campaigns, therefore, need to emphasise the value of the Covid-19 vaccine not just from the lens of prevention of serious disease and fatality but by stating with conviction this it is currently the best and only known path to restoratio­n of normalcy in our lives. Here lies the answer for “why should I” and the most compelling motivation for anyone to opt for the vaccine.

India has a rich history of having successful­ly eradicated diseases through vaccinatio­n campaigns. It is the country’s responsibi­lity to stop the spread of the coronaviru­s disease and treat infected patients. But it is an individual’s responsibi­lity to do her bit. If each and every one of us has a strong enough personal motivation, we are more likely to do our bit by opting for the vaccine as and when offered.

 ?? Kalyani Rajan ??
Kalyani Rajan
 ?? Shilpa Rao ??
Shilpa Rao

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