COVID-19 public health messages have been all over the place—but we ca

Public health officers have struggled to seek out persuasive and accessible approaches all through the pandemic, from explaining the place COVID-19 originated to how the virus spreads among individuals, together with steps to stop its transmission, its inequitable impacts on folks’s lives, and now related dangers and advantages details about vaccines.

COVID-19 isn’t just a medical difficulty. It is usually a social justice, financial, and political difficulty. That makes it onerous to determine how finest to share details about it, particularly since messages come from a spread of communicators—together with elected officers, journalists, scientists, physicians, and group leaders—and are delivered to various audiences.

And the science itself has been unsure and evolving. New info can change what’s recognized almost daily, making clear, correct communication a “moving target.”


As researchers focused on the science of science communication, we can counsel several communication strategies, primarily based on a July 2020 report from the Nationwide Academies for Science, Engineering and Drugs, that encourage protecting behaviors associated to COVID-19.

Clear and open, even about uncertainty

A long time of analysis in threat communication present that people’s perception of their own risk is essential to motivating them to take preventive measures. For that to work, public health messages have to be clear, constant and clear.

A method to make sure that, particularly for points that have excessive uncertainty, akin to the pandemic, is for science and health messages to incorporate context that connects the information to folks’s considerations and prior experiences. What does threat or uncertainty about how the virus is transferred imply for the viewers? How can they act on that info in their very own lives? The “so what” of the message has to really feel related. One strategy, for instance, is to emphasise how adoption of preventive behaviors—akin to mask-wearing and hand-washing—results in native companies reopening and quicker financial restoration.

Guaranteeing consistency in messaging, even for a quickly altering difficulty, additionally means contemplating context—the bigger-picture processes shaping the difficulty. In different phrases, the place do each the info and the uncertainty come from? What do scientists, policymakers, and healthcare staff know or not know at this level? Then, most crucially, what are folks doing to deal with that uncertainty and what can audiences nonetheless do to behave in the face of it?

Faucet right into a crowd mentality

At varied factors throughout the pandemic, public health officers wanted to steer folks to alter elements of their every day lives. To do that successfully, it helps to keep in mind that folks change their conduct and beliefs to raised match what they understand different individuals are doing—particularly these they most determine with. It’s human nature to need to go together with social norms.

Health messages ought to keep away from placing a highlight on “dangerous” behaviors, since that may really exacerbate the problem. Disproportionate consideration paid to vaccine hesitancy or folks refusing to put on masks, for instance, provides the impression that these behaviors are more common than they really are. Moderately, consideration to “good” behaviors, akin to small enterprise efficiently implementing social distancing practices, may be simpler.


However even well-intended efforts to advertise social norms, akin to vaccination selfies, might provoke significant backlash, together with jealousy, anger, and emotions of injustice.

One technique to keep away from unintended backlash is to contemplate, earlier than sharing, who’s prone to see this message past the meant audiences. Are those that may see the message capable of act on this info? If folks can’t join their very own vaccination but, a photograph of a cheerful newly vaccinated particular person might make them really feel offended and set off detrimental emotions about systemic unfairness and resentment towards those that do have entry.

Balancing the excellent news with the dangerous

The fear of a threat can motivate action. However a fear-based message usually results in folks feeling helpless until it’s paired with clear actions they will take to mitigate the menace.

Alternatively, hope is a powerful motivator, far more so and extra constantly than concern or anger in lots of circumstances. Luckily, for science communication specifically, surveys discover that the majority of People remain hopeful about the promise of science to enhance folks’s lives.

Speaking hope can occur implicitly, by way of highlighting what does work and the advantages of actions. For instance, purchasers following mask-wearing insurance policies permitted many small companies akin to hair salons to stay safely open.

What tends to be extra widespread, particularly in information protection, is an emphasis on the detrimental—each in the present scenario and in hypothetical futures and dangers that would come if folks don’t change course. You’ll be able to see this focus in the protection of gatherings that violate health laws, akin to crowded seashores throughout spring break.