"We need to improve the quantity, quality and targeting of communication about vaccine safety if we are to increase acceptance of vaccination through improved awareness of the risks and benefits."

This free, interactive online course - one module of which focuses specifically on communication - aims to establish a shared understanding among professionals whose work is linked to vaccine safety issues. The rationale behind this resource from the World Health Organization (WHO) is that professionals involved in vaccine safety - nurses/midwives/community health workers, as well as pharmacists, medical doctors, and programme or technical officers - come from different backgrounds. "As their jobs are all interrelated and co-dependent, they need a 'common language' in order to ensure smooth collaboration."

Each of the 6 modules includes training questions throughout and assessments testing one's knowledge at the end of each module. Also, there is a general assessment testing one's understanding at the end of the whole course. The modules include:

Module 1: Introduction to vaccine safety

Module 2: Types of vaccine and adverse reactions

Module 3: Adverse events following immunization

  • Case study A: Collecting effective information

Module 4: Surveillance

Module 5: Institutions and mechanisms

  • Case study B: Using information effectively

Module 6: Communication - "By the end of this module you should be able to:

  1. Understand the need for improved communication on vaccine safety,
  2. Critically evaluate and assess new information about vaccines before communicating to the target audience,
  3. Gather information about the various target audiences, who they are, how they perceive vaccine risk and their knowledge about vaccines and safety,
  4. Outline the fears and concerns of different groups associated with, or likely to be affected by, an immunization programme,
  5. Design, simple, clear and tailor-made messages to communicate information about vaccine safety to your target audience (e.g. parent, vaccinee, clinic staff, media, health professional, drug regulatory authority, health minister, etc),
  6. Identify the most suitable means and channels of communication to convey information to different target groups,
  7. Understand the media as being an important ally in vaccine safety."

Following an overview and outcomes, this module focuses on:

  • Risk communication
    • Need for improved communication
    • Communicate only reliable information
    • Simplified and key messages
    • Risk perception
    • Sources of information
    • Communicating in public
  • Responding to vaccine safety crises
    • Rumours and crises
    • Impact of rumours and crises
    • Responding to rumours and crises
  • Communicating with the media
    • Preparing a press release
    • Preparing for an interview
  • Summary
  • Case study C: How a potential human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccination crisis was averted

Supplementary tools included in the resource include: search functionality, glossary of key terms, navigation tools, and additional sources of information on the web.

Each module is expected to take about 1.5 hours to complete; participants may study this course at their own pace, pausing learning at any point. This is part of a commitment to meeting different starting points, learning needs, and country contexts. Those who pass the general assessment will be provided with a downloadable document confirming the participant's successful participation in the exam.

Since its introduction on September 20 2012, the course has been taken up by countries across the globe, with the monthly uptake remaining consistently high. According to the WHO, staff in Low and Middle Income Countries (LMIC) particularly appreciate this course as a no-cost and easy-to-access training resource. Three out of the top five countries using the course are LMIC from Africa, the Eastern Mediterranean, and the Southeast Asian Region. Due to the high demand and the comparatively low uptake in non-English-speaking countries, translations of the course in several other languages are being considered.

In addition to the link below, which allows participants to complete the course online, the course is available on CD and as a PDF document for those who do not have - or have inconsistent - internet access. Click here to learn more.


"Ethiopia Becomes Vaccine Safety E-Learning Champion in Africa", by Philipp Lambach, November 30 2012, in Global Immunization News (GIN) [PDF], sent to The Communication Initiative on December 5 2012; E-Learning Course on Vaccine Safety Basics, December 13 2012; and emails from Philipp Lambach to The Communication Initiative on December 18 2012 and February 13 2013.