Key lessons learned

  • Coordinate communications with school officials immediately when vaccination programme is school-based.

The UK DH was liaising with the Department for Children, Schools and Families, and tried to get involved as quickly as possible. Unfortunately they were not quick enough to advise the school on the contents of their letter.

  • Issue a preliminary statement within a few hours.
  • Make sure that the government communications and immunization departments work closely together.

According to one press officer:

"What happens in government is you have groups of people doing policy in one area, and communications come in at last minute and decides how to publish that. But when a story like this breaks you have to work together as a whole team, looking at policy as it is formed, and with communications experts saying, ‘well, the meaning of that in terms of public perception is…’"

  • Be careful about making public comments unless you are fully informed.

Due to the limited evidence and tragic nature of the event, none of the leading scientists were prepared to speak publicly.

The general view inside the UK DH was they were right to hold back until the post-mortem results were available.

  • Communicate with receptive journalists with whom a relationship already exists.
  • Keep politics out of the story.

Despite allegations by the political opposition, the UK DH decided not to field ministers until more evidence was known.

According to a UK DH Communications Officer...

"If a scientist, an expert, gets up and says their piece, this is what the public trusts most. Research shows that people trust doctors, scientists, and experts on issues like this more than politicians or government spokespeople."

  • Be sensitive. While the administration of a vaccine shortly before this girl died was a coincidence, all correspondence needed to be sensitive to the fact that this was a local tragedy.

Key point

See Resources section to access WHO’s AIDE MEMOIRE on AEFI Investigation and other useful documents.