COVID-19 Vaccine Communication Handbook

Published: 2017

Why vaccinations?

Vaccines help people survive. Vaccines save 5 lives every minute. The eradication of smallpox—a serious disease that left even survivors scarred for life—alone saves an estimated 5 million lives every year. If a vaccine had not eradicated smallpox, someone would now die from the disease every 6 seconds of every day. Prior to the introduction of a vaccine, as recently as 1980, measles caused more than 2.6 million deaths globally.

Vaccines can only save lives if people are vaccinated. Fortunately, most people get vaccinated. For example, 85% of children worldwide are vaccinated against diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis (whooping cough), and in 125 countries that figure exceeds 90%.

The vast majority of people in most countries vaccinate their children, thereby making an important contribution to public health and people’s lives.

Why COVID-19 vaccinations?

COVID-19 is a serious disease. In only 10 months the SARS-CoV-2 virus infected over 78 million people across the world, killing 1.7 million 1. COVID-19 patients require intensive care in hospital at a rate more than 6 times greater than during the influenza pandemic in 2009 2. Many survivors are faced with sometimes severe long-term health impacts.

COVID-19 is not like the flu. It is more contagious, more deadly, and is spreading across a world where no-one was immune.

While behavioral measures such as isolating while symptomatic, mask-wearing and physical distancing have slowed the spread of the virus, vaccines provide a better path out of the COVID-19 pandemic, and scientists have now developed several highly effective vaccines against COVID-19.

Because of the risk from COVID-19 and its prevalence, it was possible to expedite the clinical trials without compromising safety:
  • Funding was no obstacle and thousands of scientists contributed to the effort.
  • Many tens of thousands of people signed up rapidly to participate in COVID-19 vaccine trials in 2020, compared to the 12-18 months it often takes to recruit far fewer participants for such trials.
  • These vaccines have been tested with more participants than many earlier vaccines for other diseases.
  • Because of the high prevalence of COVID-19 in the population, observing the efficacy of the vaccines based on naturally-occurring infections was more rapid than it would be with other, rarer diseases.
  • Pharmaceutical companies took financial risks and started investing in manufacturing early on, so there was no delay between completion of testing and rollout.

As with all medicines, side effects can occur after getting a COVID-19 vaccine. However, these side effects are transient (24-48 hours), and serious side effects (allergic reactions) are exceedingly rare. The fact is: The risk of the disease by far outweighs the risks of the COVID-19 vaccines.