Vaccine superheroes: experts impressed with communications targeting children


Melissa Couto Zuber, The Canadian Press

Posted Saturday, November 20, 2021 3:48 PM EST

Last updated Saturday, November 20, 2021 at 3:48 p.m. EST

Whether it’s a video of Batman observing a public health professional or an image of a purple cartoon character playing hockey, Canadian health units and science communication groups are trying to find ways to inspire young people COVID-19 days of vaccination before the country begins the next phase of its vaccination campaign.

Health Canada approved the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for use in children ages 5 to 11 on Friday after reviewing the company’s safety and efficacy data for weeks, and doses are expected to arrive within provinces and territories in the coming days.

While jurisdictions await their mailings, some prepare their vaccine communication strategies by injecting youth themes into their messages.

Experts say communication around the pediatric vaccine rollout needs to be child-friendly, clear and concise to quell social media misinformation.

“There is a lot of misinformation that can escalate when it comes to children,” said Shana MacDonald, communications expert at the University of Waterloo. “The fear is that it’s going to produce a hesitation that doesn’t need to be there.

“But I think public health units do a great job in their communication, making it stronger and shareable.”

MacDonald said she was impressed with some of the posts she saw from various health units and from those she called “science influencers” – experts who took it upon themselves to produce and share. accurate vaccine content on their own social platforms.

Institutions like the University of Waterloo’s School of Pharmacy have been at the forefront of creating products that are easy to digest COVID-19 infographics, in partnership with a number of doctors and communication experts to create and share information more widely.

One of these collaborative groups, called Focused COVID Communication, posted a graphic on Instagram on Friday showing a smiling purple cartoon character playing hockey, celebrating a birthday with family and hanging out with friends to showcase “the benefits of vaccinating children against COVID-19.

Superhero themes also filled posts in tweets from other jurisdictions on Friday, including Alberta Health Services, which shared an interactive game where kids choose a character and “build protection … through important actions like that vaccination, diligent washing of hands, wearing of a mask and social distancing “to overcome”COVID-zilla.

The Ontario region of Peel posted a video on its Twitter account Friday featuring “Brampton Batman” and Medical Officer of Health Dr. Lawrence Loh walking to a vaccination clinic in the Batmobile. The comic book legend, in his deep, unmistakable voice, calls children “the real heroes all along”.

The video, which had been retweeted more than 400 times on Saturday afternoon, garnered mostly positive responses. Some commentators, however, have opposed the use of Batman to promote vaccines.

MacDonald said adding a superhero element to the video made it more accessible to children.

“It generates some excitement for them and it is a way to counter the uncertainty, hesitation and fear,” she said. “It might not be well received by everyone on the internet, but it’s not the target demographic. “

Sabina Vohra-Miller, pharmacology expert and founder of health communications website Unambiguous Science, said vaccine messages should strive to meet the public where they are.

Vohra-Miller, who works with Focused COVID Communication since the initiative launched in the spring, said that the use of superheroes and interactive games is a good strategy.

“The children are so open and receptive and this is a great opportunity for us to develop their science literacy and to do it in a way that engages and includes them,” she said, adding that her four-year-old and a half – The old son knows a lot about vaccines “because we talk about it and we have fun”.

Dr Samira Jeimy, clinical immunologist and assistant professor at Western University in London, Ont, was also a fan of superhero posts, but said communicators shouldn’t rely too much on this theme and risk losing it. alienate uninteresting children for caped crusaders.

A simple approach that tailors messages to what interests children can work wonders, she said.

“Some of my patients don’t care (superheroes), they care about unicorns,” said Jeimy, who is involved with Focused. COVID Communication. “Honestly, the kids are a lot smarter than we think. By giving them the facts directly, (saying) “the vaccine will protect you so that everyone will come back to real life and be with your friends and family again.” … These messages have concrete meaning for children.

Jeimy and Vohra-Miller said some of the challenges with vaccine messaging for children are the perception that parents have that COVID-19 will not affect their children.

Although severe disease remains rare in children, some have experienced lingering effects, including long COVID symptoms and multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C). They can also pass the virus on to others.

“We have built what makes having a COVID infection is not a big problem for children and I think we have to strongly, with evidence, show that it is not, ”said Jeimy. “The children have suffered enough and it is time to bring them back to social activities that will help them grow. “

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on November 20, 2021.


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