Shaky government comms risk undermining vaccine confidence

In a health crisis, it is best that officialdom speaks via one spokesperson and with one voice.

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Paediatric trials of the AstraZeneca vaccine have been paused while the regulator examines whether there is a link between the jab and an increase in the risk of clotting.

Although just 30 rare cases of clotting have been reported after the more than 18 million doses given, the calculation of risk is different as we enter the next phase of the vaccine rollout: the danger posed by catching Covid-19 is more serious than the risk of clotting for those already vaccinated, if – and it is only an "if" at this stage – there is a causal link between getting the jab and increased risk of clotting.

Any delay to the vaccine timetable (if the MHRA decides that the AstraZeneca vaccine should only be given to those who are considered “at risk”, that will delay the rollout) puts further strain on the government's plans for vaccine passports. 

Maggie Wearmouth, who sits on the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, has told the Telegraph that she believes the use of the AstraZeneca jab should be paused among those not at risk to maximise confidence in the vaccine. 

Frankly, the simplest and most effective way to maximise confidence is for the government and scientific advisers to speak with one voice in public: to belatedly rediscover the so-called Krebs rules that in a health crisis, officialdom communicates via one spokesperson. That’s been a consistent problem with government communication during the pandemic – the consequences of which may have a little further yet to run. 

Stephen Bush is political editor of the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics. He also co-hosts the New Statesman podcast.

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