Carnegie Mellon University
April 28, 2021

Fischhoff authors NASEM report on communicating vaccine efficacy and effectiveness

Engineering & Public Policy's Howard Heinz University Professor Baruch Fischhoff was the lead author on the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine rapid expert consultation report, “Understanding and Communicating about COVID-19 Vaccine Efficacy, Effectiveness, and Equity.” In the consultation report, Fischhoff, along with co-authors Dr. Vanessa Northington Gamble of George Washington University and Dr. Monica Schoch-Spana of Johns Hopkins University, offers advice for decision-makers communicating to the public about vaccine efficacy, effectiveness, and equity — drawing on findings from social and behavioral science.

The consultation report outlines a process for producing communications content about COVID-19 vaccine efficacy and effectiveness:

  1. Identify the outcomes that are most relevant to recipients’ decisions through community partnerships, such as the convenience of getting the vaccine or the benefits to society of getting vaccinated.
  2. Summarize the evidence regarding those outcomes, such as the vaccine’s ability to reduce hospitalizations or prevent death, emphasizing the quality of the evidence and the institutions involved in the vaccine program.
  3. Identify the most relevant subset of evidence to share with a specific audience, such as how the vaccine was tested on people like them.
  4. Evaluate messages before dissemination, using techniques like think-aloud interviews, in which people from the target audience read a draft message and state how they interpret its meaning.

Communication about equity in vaccine distribution needs to be transparent, clear, timely and done in a trustworthy way for audiences, so that they are able to judge for themselves how well equity has been achieved. The consultation says the lack of such communication so far has eroded trust in the distribution process among communities of color.

Transparent decision-making, accountability, and effective messages together can help garner public trust in vaccination programs.

Read the full consultation report to learn more on how communication affects the public’s understanding of the COVID-19 vaccines' efficacy, effectiveness, and equity.