• Stavros Papagianneas

Communicating the Pandemic


Last summer, I was in Greece twice. While I understand the fear and paranoia of some communities, I was surprised by the anti-vax and conspiracy theories I heard, not only by Greeks but also by many Germans, French and Italians I have met.

There is no pandemic, This is all a hoax, or This is no worse than the flu. An Italian tourist will cite a friend who recovered from a mild case as substantial proof that no vaccine will be necessary. An old friend from Athens, more thoughtfully, will suggest they need more vaccine trial data, to see what happens later on.


My German windsurf instructor does not believe in vaccination because his family members working in the health sector said the vaccine is dangerous and has long-term side effects. I try to inform about the importance of vaccination. When I finally get a win, when a villager in Corfu hears my message on the importance of the COVID-19 vaccines, I learn that he is afraid for his life. A relative died suddenly from the virus last year. Terror was driving his rationale.


This is only a tiny, regional sample of the European public’s perception of vaccines, only among the most recent COVID-19 topics to become dichotomised and contested on a pan-European scale. Yet, at the same time, it represents two major trends exacerbated by the pandemic.First, it shows the extremes of public perception and second, the communication from experts to the public has failed during the COVID-19 pandemic.


The Internet seems to play a crucial role in informing people about the vaccine even if they have previously being informed by traditional media. Even if they have read a newspaper, listened to the radio or watched TV, they will "deepen their knowledge" on the Internet with whatever consequences this can have.


The EU and its Member States were slow to respond to this reality, especially with government officials involved in the management of the vaccination campaigns on social media. However, many of these posts, do not take into account the specific profile of the target audiences. Not so much the deniers who are difficult to be convinced, but the hesitant ones. The same mistake was made by scientists who entered the Facebook arena.


During 2020 and 2021, academic information about the vaccines was streamlined, awareness and education campaigns were prioritised, and public interest in the intrigues of medical science piqued. Nevertheless, the extreme polarisation between believers and non-believers indicates a failure of government communication, especially in rural areas and large cities with migrant minorities.


Communication about equity in vaccine distribution needs to be diversified, transparent, clear, timely and done in a responsible way so that audiences can judge for themselves how well equity has been achieved. Unfortunately, the lack of such communication so far has eroded trust in the distribution process among migrant communities, especially in big cities like f.e. Brussels.


Effective communication is needed to ensure a shared understanding of how well COVID-19 vaccines work and whether they are distributed equitably. Without clear, consistent, readily accessible communications, people may lose faith in the vaccines and those providing them.


EU, national, regional and local officials and academics can play a crucial role in conveying that information to community members or intermediaries in a timely, transparent, authoritative way and in expressing community concerns to policymakers.It is paramount to convey critical messages through relevant storytelling.


Quality storytelling can make a difference in a world of instantaneous information and hyper-communication because it captures the receiver through human emotion. Compared to traditional argumentation, this narrative technique places the human being at the heart of communication. It can increase the memorisation of the information transmitted by 50%. Human beings retain information much better when their empathy, sensitivity and emotions are activated.


Portraits, life stories, stories of experience often convey positive energy. They inspire, give hope and can promote behavioural change in target groups. Storytelling is an effective communication tool for raising awareness, sharing knowledge and mobilising resources.The story of a "role model" or "anonymous hero" is a strategic vehicle for providing information about the development of action, its objectives and its impact. The target audience will more easily assimilate this information



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