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EVI's new publication identifies gaps in outreach information on COVID-19 vaccine trials in Europe

31 August 2022 - Together with VACCELERATE partners, European Vaccine Initiative (EVI) just published the main findings of the new freely available ‘Inventory and gap analysis report of existing public outreach material’ developed as part of the VACCELERATE project in the Journal of Science Communication (JCOM).

EVI created this inventory by searching existing online regional, national, and European official sources containing information about COVID-19 vaccine trials, with a special emphasis on identifying gaps in informational and educational material for underserved groups[1]. The goal of this task was to identify and tackle existing gaps in public knowledge on COVID-19 vaccine trials in Europe.

The inventory, extent and characteristics

The inventory provides an overview of the available online public information about COVID-19 vaccines, and specifically about clinical trials involving COVID-19 vaccines, (and other vaccine clinical trials) in Europe. It holds 2545 entries for different media such as websites, videos, audios, brochures, and flyers, found online from public, national and European official sources in 38 countries in Europe and neighbouring countries, as well as multilateral organisations, including NGOs. The information was categorised per topic, type of media, country (i.e., provenance of the institution that produced the material), language, and target audience. Material collection took place between May and July 2021. Organisations such as private companies, offline sources of information and offline advertisement campaigns were not included.

Main findings and analysis

Limited online information on COVID-19 vaccine trials

The inventory comprises over 2500 entries from across Europe and neighbouring countries. A modest 2.51% of the material collected was focused on COVID-19 Vaccine Trials, and this material was furthermore concentrated in only 4 languages: English, French, German and Czech. Most of the information material (66.92%) was directed towards the General Public, whereas about a third was targeting specific population groups. Most of the information was, expectedly, dedicated to general information about COVID-19 Vaccines (84.20%).

Does the information available fit to European needs and demographics?

Surprisingly, even though Elderly is one of the most affected groups by COVID-19 and represent between 9.10% and 23.20% of the population in European countries, only 0.51% of online materials targeted this group. On the same note, these materials were produced only in 4 countries out of the 38 studied, revealing a major and unexpected gap in public information.

Due to its magnitude and ubiquity the current pandemic has also revealed the importance of properly communicating health topics to children. However, only 3.34% of materials specifically targeted Children, even though they represent between 13.00% and 23.10% of the population in European countries. Less than half of the countries (16 countries out of 38) produced materials targeting Children.

Immigrants/illegal immigrants/migrants/refugees were the second largest target group for information (after General Public), targeted in 10.88% of materials collected, while Immigrants represent between 0.7% and 47.3% (median 8.45%) of the population of the countries analysed. The relatively high number of media for this group was created by only 4 countries (Norway, United Kingdom, Switzerland, and Greece) as well as by EU-wide organisations, revealing a striking imbalance among countries, since the majority of countries produced no online media targeting this group.

Alike, other analysed groups, such as sex workers, persons experiencing homelessness and religious/ethnic groups, were left largely untargeted in the materials collected.

Overall, online outreach information does not significantly target underserved communities.

What have we learned?

Countries within Europe perform very variably when it comes to amount, type, inclusiveness, diversity of materials and specific audiences (un)targeted. The EU institutions have partially levelled the field both in terms of topics as well as of diversity of materials and audiences addressed in the effort towards tackling the pandemic.

Remarkably, we did not find any correlation between vaccination rates in the general population and the information made available online by official sources. Countries with extensive online information material did not have vaccination rates that were significantly different from countries with little or no online information. Nevertheless, this correlation may exist in specific population groups.