Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Using National PSAs to Support Local Activities

Public Service Announcements, or PSAs, are powerful tools to inform and motivate large audiences, but creating original materials may be beyond the budgets of many volunteer immunization coalitions. National organizations, however, will often provide PSAs at low or no cost to local partners who can assist with their distribution. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), for example, recently released free PSAs to promote pre-teen vaccination; local groups are encouraged to use the ads in their communities.

How can your group use national PSAs, like those developed for CDC’s pre-teen campaign, to raise awareness and promote local resources? Consider the following tips before getting started.

1. Have realistic expectations for PSAs.
A well-executed campaign can shape opinions, spotlight services, and motivate audiences to take simple actions, like calling an information line or talking to a doctor. Expect that PSAs alone cannot change complex behaviors or compensate for lack of services. They are most successful when used in a multi-faceted campaign that provides local support.

2. Develop an outreach strategy to promote the PSAs and your coalition.
Boost the impact of PSAs by launching a locally focused outreach effort. Possible activities include expert interviews about the PSA topic, letters to the editor, and community events. Some national campaigns encourage local groups to co-brand their efforts and provide tools, such as logos and templates.

3. Know which audience the PSA is intended to reach.
Effective campaigns often target their message to specific groups in order to create tailored messages. Tailored messages are more likely to resonate with the audience and inspire them to act. CDC, for example, identified mothers of 11 and 12 year old children as the primary audience for their new campaign. Knowing the intended audience will help your coalition identify the best local media outlets to carry the message.

4. Maintain a strong network of media contacts and resources.
Many coalitions already have strong relationships with their local media providers. Utilize your connections with editors and producers to pitch PSAs. Many outlets will require a specific file format, so be sure to inquire about their needs. In addition, consider alternative channels, such as movie theaters, local events, and Web sites to broadcast messages.

5. Use different formats to meet different needs.
The same message can be packaged in different formats and languages to increase its distribution. CDC’s new campaign offers radio PSAs and 15, 30, and 60 second television spots in English and Spanish. Match the PSA options offered by the campaign with the needs and resources in your community. Don’t worry if you don’t use all of the campaign options. It is more important to target the message carefully to ensure its maximum impact in your area.

6. Provide follow up support.
Coalitions provide a key element to any successful PSA campaign-local support. Messages can inspire action, but accessible resources are vital to encourage meaningful and sustained behavior change. Identify the appropriate resources in your community and secure their commitment before you begin broadcasting messages.

Leave us your comments: How has your Coalition used PSAs to encourage vaccination? What successes or lessons learned does your group have to share?

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Addressing the Top Flu Vaccine Myths

Has your coalition heard these myths? If so, what are some ways in which you have helped to dispel them? What other myths have you heard?

Please let us know by leaving a comment below!

10. Hand washing is more effective than getting the vaccine.
The good news is people have heard the message about hygiene and flu prevention. The bad news is people mistakenly believe that hand washing alone will prevent influenza. What Coalitions Can Do: Promote immunization, hand washing, and antiviral medication as a three-part flu protection strategy.

9. Only the very old and the very young need the flu shot.
Young children and the elderly are at high risk from flu complications, but people of all ages can become sick-and they can pass the virus on to others. What Coalitions Can Do: Encourage flu vaccination as “a way to protect yourself and others.” Many people are more compelled to get a flu shot if they know it will protect a loved one’s health.

8. Flu shots are scarce and hard to find.
Manufacturers have more than doubled the amount of flu vaccine produced since 2004, and this year’s supply is projected to be ample. What Coalitions Can Do: Spread the message that anyone who wants a flu vaccine should be able to find it.

7. Getting a flu shot is a hassle.
In addition to health care offices, many flu clinics are hosted in convenient places, such as work sites, pharmacies, supermarkets, and schools. Also, many organizations are holding Vote and Vax clinics at or near polling sites on Election Day, giving people another easy option. What Coalitions Can Do: Publicize locations of flu clinics in your area, and consider helping needy groups find transportation to clinics if necessary.

6. Flu shots don’t work.
Each year scientists develop vaccines based on projections for the upcoming flu season-and they’ve made successful matches 16 of the last 21 years. Even if a person becomes ill from a strain not covered by the vaccine, a flu shot can minimize symptoms and speed up recovery. What Coalitions Can Do: Acknowledge that there may be unexpected changes in the flu strain, but stress that the vaccine has a long success rate for preventing the flu and can help make the disease less severe if contracted.

5. Flu shots will make you sick.
Flu vaccines are very safe, but like any medicine, side effects may occur. Most often they are mild and include soreness from the injection, aches, and low grade fever. The flu vaccine, however, cannot give anyone the flu. What Coalitions Can Do: Educate people about side effects and explain that they may occur as the body develops immunity. Point out that these symptoms are much less severe than getting the flu.

4. There are unsafe ingredients in flu shots.
Recent media speculation about vaccine safety may raise concerns about the flu shot. The vaccine, however, has a strong safety record. Healthcare providers can address questions and help patients make an informed choice. What Coalitions Can Do: Encourage medical providers to talk to their patients about the flu vaccine and provide resources, such as brochures, posters, and PSAs, to encourage dialogue. Visit the CDC influenza Web site for free resources (

3. Flu shots are expensive.
Flu shots average about $25-$35 a dose. Medicare Part B and Vaccines for Children provide flu shots at no cost to those who qualify. Many employers provide free vaccines to their employees, and university health centers often provide discounted immunizations for students. Even if paying out of pocket, the cost of a flu shot is far less than the costs associated with missing work and needing health care. What Coalitions Can Do: Connect low and middle income people with resources to obtain free or reduced cost immunizations.

2. If I don’t get my flu shot early, than it’s not worth it.
There is no time limit on when to get flu vaccine. Immunization can begin as soon as the vaccine is available and can extend through February or later- when the flu season typically peaks. What Coalitions Can Do: Promote National Influenza Vaccination Week from December 8-14th to encourage those not vaccinated to get their flu shot. Visit for more information.

1. I don’t need to get immunized, because the flu is no big deal.
Many people mistakenly attribute cold symptoms, mild illness, and even digestive upset to the flu, not realizing that influenza is a serious, sometimes life threatening respiratory infection. What Coalitions Can Do: Educate your community about the seriousness of the flu, so people understand the need for immunization. Personal narratives are effective ways to deliver this message. The CDC ( and Families Fighting Flu Web sites ( have videos and fact sheets to help with your outreach efforts.