Taking a Shot at Vaccine Safety Information
Charting the future of public relations
Holmes Report

Taking a Shot at Vaccine Safety Information

Despite the abundance of scientific evidence to the contrary, beliefs that immunizations cause autism, sudden infant death syndrome, diabetes and other chronic illnesses persist.

Paul Holmes


The National Network for Immunization Information (NNii) was formed in 1998 by a group of top experts in the immunization field.  Their goal?  To tell the positive story of immunizations and provide a counterpart to a troubling increase in negative vaccine stories.  Two years later, in October 2000, after much planning and research, NNii was publicly launched as a source of the best, most accurate, science-based information on immunization. NNii’s objectives include:

  • Helping health professionals communicate more effectively with patients on this subject;
  • Improving the quality of media coverage;
  • Improving the quality of legislative deliberations;
  • Building and maintaining a network of organizations and individuals dedicated to effective communication on this subject;

Providing the best science-based information on immunization to everyone who needs it.

To accomplish these goals, NNii has developed a website, www.immunizationinfo.org, with tailored information for parents, healthcare providers, and legislators, and easy-to-use features such as searchable databases of vaccine-preventable disease information and state-by-state vaccine requirements.  Also, NNii has developed a resource kit for healthcare professionals entitled, Communicating With Patients About Immunization; provides the “Immunization Newsbriefs” service, three-times-a-week summaries of recent vaccine news coverage; and conducts local and state outreach initiatives through partnerships with healthcare organizations such as the American Nurses Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics.


For nearly half a century, immunizations have saved millions of lives and prevented untold suffering throughout the world.  But a combination of factors has led to the perception that vaccines may no longer be necessary.  Many parents and younger doctors cannot remember the overwhelming and devastating effects of diseases such as polio, measles and diphtheria.  Many take the protection immunization offers for granted.  Furthermore, the “voice” of groups and individuals who oppose immunizations is growing steadily louder.  In many cases, these groups employ scare tactics and questionable science, but share emotionally compelling stories via the media that can quickly confuse and frighten the public.  Despite the abundance of scientific evidence to the contrary, beliefs that immunizations cause autism, sudden infant death syndrome, diabetes and other chronic illnesses persist.  It is in this environment that NNii serves to provide immunization information, as fact-based and scientifically accurate as possible, in order to ensure that immunization decisions are made based upon the best available information and that the public is protected from serious infectious disease.  We strive to offer factual information from credible sources to counter the emotionally charged stories told by groups who doubt the benefit and safety of immunization.


The NNii program is based on extensive research with parents, health care professionals, and members of state legislatures.  Our research shows that although the vast majority of parents support immunization and see it as something that good and loving parents do, many parents have serious misconceptions about immunization.  Specifically:

  • 25% of parents are concerned that a child’s immune system may be weakened by too many immunizations;
  • 23% believe that children get more immunizations than are necessary;
  • 19% believe that immunizations are not always proven safe before approved for use.

We also found that parents turn to pediatricians first when they have questions.  But pediatricians say they need help communicating effectively and doing so within the intense time constraints felt during office visits; that no one organization is currently seen by parents as the authority on immunization issues; and that in state legislatures, many questions about immunizations focus on allegations about a single vaccine, which leads to very specific, medically-oriented questions.


Because parents view their healthcare providers as the most important source of information on immunization, NNii’s main focus is on assisting doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals in discussing these questions with their patients.  However, we also reach out directly to parents as well as legislators, another key audience.  Tactics include:

Communicating with Patients About Immunization: A Resource Kit—In developing this resource kit, NNii brought together the leading vaccine risk communication experts from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Academy of Pediatrics, as well as independent vaccine risk communication consultants, to build a comprehensive easy-to-use resource that outlines the complex issues surrounding immunization.  The kit’s structure provides several different levels of information on each issue, so that healthcare professionals can easily provide their patients with as little or as much information as needed to answer their questions.

Professional Outreach—NNii’s launch was held at the 2000 American Academy of Pediatrics Annual Meeting, as a way of reaching both the media and healthcare providers.  NNii also disseminates information to healthcare providers through booths and seminars at professional conventions such as the American Nurses Association and the American Public Health Association, the internal communication vehicles of our partner professional organizations (the Infectious Diseases Society of America, the Pediatric Infectious Diseases Society, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Nurses Association), and through the healthcare professionals page on our website. NNii research has also been published in Pediatrics, and commentary by our executive director has appeared in the New England Journal of Medicine.

www.immunizationinfo.org—Because of the growing trend of patients taking direct control in obtaining health information, NNii felt the need to provide comprehensive information directly to parents and patients.  NNii’s primary channel to reach the general public is the NNii website. The website was launched in October 2000, providing feature articles on current immunization issues, a searchable database of vaccine information and state vaccine requirements, a downloadable version of NNii’s resource kit, and the three-times-per-week Immunization Newsbriefs service, which keeps viewers on top of the latest vaccine issues in the news.  Its design is user-friendly, providing a section for each target audience (parents, healthcare professionals, media and legislators) with the information that is most tailored and relevant to them.

Media Outreach—Since the media climate surrounding immunization issues had been growing more steadily negative, NNii has stepped in by pitching positive stories regarding immunization and responding strongly to negative articles, providing a balanced perspective supported by scientific evidence.  As part of NNii’s launch, we held a media briefing on immunization, attended by outlets including Parenting Magazine, Child Magazine and American Baby Magazine. Additionally, NNii is currently working out details involved in providing regular guest editorials on immunization to one major parenting outlet.  In February 2000, one of NNii’s Steering Committee co-chairs and an NNii spokesperson, a parent whose child contracted Hib meningitis after her decision not to have her child immunized, were featured in the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health’s “Following ER,” a weekly news segment which provides information in conjunction with storylines appearing on the popular NBC drama, ER.  The news segment was distributed to NBC affiliates across the country.


NNii’s launch in October 2000 garnered a large amount of media attention, and NNii continues to draw interest from professional journals, parenting magazines and major daily and online publications.  Between October 2000 and February 2001, NNii has received almost 65 million media impressions.  Hits include print pieces in the Associated Press, USA Today (one piece on the launch and one piece on the website), the Pittsburgh Post Gazette, the Washington Post, and Fit Pregnancy Magazine, as well as internet pieces on MSNBC.com and HealthSCOUT.com.  In addition, NNii’s website was chosen as USA Today’s “Hot Site of the Day”, coolsiteoftheday.com’s “Cool Site of the Day,” and Popular Science Magazine’s “Editor’s Choice.”  NNii also received a large amount of attention on the broadcast news front—the VNR we produced for the launch was broadcast 82 times by 40 stations.

The website continues to receive a substantial amount of attention as well.  In its first three months, it has received over 53,000 hits, and the average viewer stays on the site for 6-7 minutes.  The resource kit, which can be downloaded from the site in its entirety or by section, has received an astounding amount of attention.  Since the website has gone active, the entire kit has been downloaded 4,800 times.
Through our marketing efforts, Communicating with Patients About Immunization, has been ordered by and distributed to over 3,500 healthcare professionals, immunization experts, parents, legislators and media.

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