Background/objective: The understanding and practice of public health crisis communication are improved through the study of responses to past crises, but require retooling for present challenges. The ‘Addressing Ebola and other outbreaks’ checklist contains guiding principles built upon maxims developed from a World Health Organization consultation in response to the mad cow (bovine spongiform encephalopathy) crisis that were later adopted for Ebola. The purpose of this article is to adapt the checklist for the health communication challenges and public health practices that have emerged during the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic. The communication challenges of promoting vaccine acceptance are used to illustrate a key area that requires strengthened communication.
Type of program or service: Effective communication principles for application during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Results: The COVID-19 pandemic has introduced unique challenges for public health practitioners and health communicators that warrant an expansion of existing health communication principles to take into consideration: the new infodemic (or mis/disinfodemic) challenge – particularly as treatments and vaccines are being developed; communication of risk and uncertainty; health-information behaviours and the instantaneous nature of social media, and the relationship between media literacy and health literacy; the effects of the pandemic on other health issues; and the need for a flexible communication strategy that adapts to the different stages of the pandemic.
Lessons learnt: Principles discussed in this article will help build preparedness capacity and offer communication strategies for moving from the acute phase to the ‘next normal’ with likely prevention (e.g. herd immunity achieved through vaccination) and societal COVID-19 resilience.