Managing the media after an adverse event following immunization

When a serious adverse event following immunization occurs, it is important that accurate information is communicated in the media and that the facts of the event are not distorted. Through proper handling of the media response to AEFIs, health officials can avoid loss of public confidence in vaccination.

This case study leads you through the media and government response to the death of a 14-year-old girl shortly after she received a human papilloma virus (HPV) vaccination in the United Kingdom.

Introduction of new vaccines

The extraordinary success of vaccines in preventing childhood infectious diseases has been an important and continuing public health achievement. However, the fact that vaccines are administered to healthy children results in a low tolerance of adverse events for vaccines. This reflects a different risk-benefit assessment for vaccines than that associated with drugs and therapies which are administered to treat persons with illness.

Once vaccine programmes have been successful and fears of vaccine-preventable diseases have declined, greater public attention may be focused on rare, but serious, AEFIs.

Poor management of AEFIs can damage public confidence in vaccination. As a result, vaccine rates drop and preventable diseases re-emerge where once they had almost disappeared. 

Media coverage, particularly via the Internet, can quickly fuel public fears about the safety of vaccines. Government and responsible agencies must respond immediately and appropriately with accurate facts to prevent a loss of confidence in vaccination due to misinformation about an adverse event. 

As demonstrated in this case study, the case of the student death shortly after vaccination never reached crisis level due to the immediate and appropriate management of the situation by the United Kingdom Department of Health (UK DH).

At the end of this case study you will be able to:

  • 1Describe how the media response to a rare, serious and coincidental outcome during a vaccination programme challenges the government and other key players’ role in maintaining public confidence in immunization,
  • 2Explain the media coverage of this serious coincidental outcome and response by the government and other key players,
  • 3Analyze the media coverage of the event for its accuracy in reporting the facts of the event, details related to the overall safety of the vaccine and information obtained from a vaccine expert and its potential impact on public perceptions of immunization safety,
  • 4Understand the importance of routine monitoring of the public perception of new vaccines and having a communications plan to facilitate media contacts,
  • 5Describe the different types of AEFIs,
  • 6Access communication resources to prepare for and investigate AEFIs without damaging public confidence in immunization.