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FDA Urges for Plain Language Writing

A Key Measure to Counter Vaccination Misinformation

Early in 2024, the FDA called urgently for the biomedical community to provide evidence-based, plain language writing to the public regarding the benefits and risks of vaccination. In a JAMA article, the FDA’s Director of the Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research (CBER), Peter Marks, and Commissioner Robert Califf raised strong concerns over growing misinformation and vaccine hesitancy.

Vaccination programs are notably one of the most effective US public health interventions. Infectious disease prevention relies on population immunity (sometimes called “herd immunity”) and childhood immunization programs. However, as Marks and Califf discussed, these efforts’ success depend on disseminating accurate information from reliable sources.

Marks’ and Calliff’s messaging is strong coming from regulators and emphasizes that current vaccination rates are at a dangerous tipping point. Their urgent call to action is in response to an increasing number of US residents declining vaccination. One contributing factor is that people with middle-to-high-income and college degrees seek their health information from social media rather than clinicians or healthcare professionals. Read more about this important update for life sciences organizations.

Social Media Vs. Plain Language Writing

Social media is a powerful means of communication because it enables rapid, easily accessible, and far-reaching information. Social media improved awareness and higher healthcare instruction compliance during the pandemic. However, these communication hubs were also sources of misinterpretation, fear, hesitancy, and promotion of unscientifically proven treatments. A 2022 systematic literature review by WHO revealed that 51% of social media posts on vaccines contained health misinformation. Additionally, a significant 28.8% of posts related to COVID-19 included misinformation.

The WHO study found the following effects of inaccurate or misleading narratives disseminated through social media:

  • “Social media platforms are associated as a potential source of promotion of anecdotal evidence, rumours, fake news, and general misinformation

  • Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and blogs play an important role in spreading rumors and speculating on health-related content during pandemics

  • Digital influencers or well-positioned individuals act as distractors or judges in social networks

  • Closed communication with online communities can be used to propagate reverberate unreliable health information

  • Misinformation can be derived from poor quality scientific knowledge.”

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Plain Language Writing is the Solution

According to the WHO and the FDA, the solution to this vaccination crisis is implementing countermeasures against social media mis- and disinformation. This solution would include awareness campaigns that outweigh false or misleading content. The campaigns could also provide scientific evidence in mass media to improve general health literacy. Language and media expertise, combined with long-term efforts, will be critical to success with such measures — especially if the goal is providing accurate and accessible language that enables people to make well-informed vaccination decisions.

Health literacy is generally known to be low outside the medical community. It’s also a challenge for healthcare professionals to communicate in plain language outside medical jargon. As language experts, Lionbridge’s life sciences translation services team finds this is too often underestimated. Often, plain language writing is mistaken as a simple task for a medical writer. Health literacy and plain language communication are multidisciplinary fields requiring knowledge of scientific methodology and skills in medical and plain language, as well as natural language(s). Lionbridge’s team, who support trial sponsors with plain language summaries, recommends that life sciences organizations and regulators partner with life sciences language service providers. These companies have the expertise and technology to produce accurate, consistent, and culturally-adapted information to the public and patients through digital channels.

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Get in touch

Lionbridge offers expert-led, AI-enabled technologies to support life sciences organizations. We have decades of experience assisting customers through the translation process, including medical, plain, and natural languages. Trust us for assistance in meeting language compliance requirements, conducting multi-lingual clinical trials, clinical trial translation services, and more. For more information about plain language summaries, download our white paper. Get in touch to discuss how we can help your team.

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Pia Windelov, VP, Life Sciences Strategy and Product Marketing
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