Case Synopsis

Vaccine hesitancy has been labelled as a complex risk communication problem for public health professionals because the reasons for this hesitancy are complex and unique. A provincial public health agency is faced with the difficult task of combatting the miscommunication about vaccines within the province. Lisa Walters, Public Health Consultant, has been working diligently to develop an effective risk communication message that targets vaccine-hesitant parents. Ultimately, the problem is one of framing, with the issue greatly influenced by how the media and health care professionals frame the issue and communicate with the public. The goal is to plan a communication campaign by creating the right message from the correct sources to influence individual decision-making on immunization. By using a set of six efficient risk communication principles, the most efficient risk communication message can be constructed. Finally, there are a variety of causes of vaccine hesitancy that can greatly affect the framing of the risk message. Lisa is participating in a media interview but does not feel prepared and is worried that her message will add to the negative media landscape on vaccines. The immunization team needs to create a multipronged, well-planned risk communication campaign to change individual vaccine behaviour but is having difficulty determining where to start or what approach to take. What is the most effective way to make a message on vaccination stick? Which stakeholder should be the one to convey this message and what are the drawbacks associated with using this stakeholder? What elements of risk communication are present for each stakeholder and which ones are lacking? What is the best method of risk communication? What different forms of risk communication should be produced (pictures, graphs, statistics, or stories, etc.)? Can a message be created that people will embrace?

Case Objectives

  1. Define risk, risk perception, and risk communication from multiple stakeholder perspectives.
  2. Develop modern approaches to a risk communication campaign by reflecting on the individual health belief model, the theories in health behaviour change, and the key principles in effective health messaging.
  3. Evaluate multiple stages of a communication campaign to best influence behavioural changes by considering the perspectives of the individual, the community, and population level society.
  4. Apply health communication and marketing skills to influence health-related behaviour changes at the individual and community level.

Case Study Questions

A. Pre-class discussion/preparation questions.

In your learning teams, prepare a communication campaign to address one of the potential causes of vaccine hesitancy. Be sure to address the following questions:

  1. When thinking about altering perceptions about vaccines, where should our attention be focused: at the individual, the community, or the societal level? Why?
  2. Consider all stakeholders. Which group would best communicate vaccine risks to the public? Why?
  3. What are some of the potential challenges associated with health communication?

B. In-class discussion questions:

  1. What is the problem in the case?
  2. How should we solve the problem?
  3. What stakeholders will be involved in the campaign? Should we use all stakeholders?
  4. Who is our target audience?
  5. What is our main goal?
  6. What is our main objective?
  7. What do we know about our audience? Demographics? Behaviour? Personal beliefs?
  8. What communication resources can we use? What is the best option?
  9. What are some specific and measurable communication objectives?
  10. What channels and vehicles should we use?
  11. What should our message be?
  12. What is the identity of our campaign?

C. Further discussion questions (if time permits):

  1. What other health communication campaigns can you develop? What do you like about them? Can you think of any campaigns that have failed?


Risk communication, health and the media, behavioural change, communication campaign, health marketing, risk perception, vaccine hesitancy



Recommended Citation

Susman, S., Crowcroft, N., & Thind, A. (2020). A Sticky Situation: A Medical Problem with a Social Solution in: McKinley, G. & Speechley, M. [eds] Western Public Health Casebook 2020. London, ON: Public Health Casebook Publishing.