Dynamics in public perceptions and media coverage during an ongoing outbreak of meningococcal W disease in the Netherlands

Marion de Vries, Liesbeth Claassen, Margreet J.M. te Wierik, Danielle R.M. Timmermans, Aura Timen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


Background: From 2015 to 2018, the Netherlands faced an outbreak of invasive meningococcal disease (IMD) caused by serogroup W. To counter the rise in infections, the government introduced a catch-up menACWY vaccination campaign for teenagers in 2018 and 2019. The outbreak situation induced substantial media attention and a run on menACWY vaccines outside the vaccination campaign. This study aimed to gain insights into the dynamics of public perceptions of and responses to the outbreak and the menACWY vaccination, and into the media coverage about the outbreak. Methods: Three repeated surveys (N = 1110) between 2017 and 2019 were sent to parents of teenagers invited for a menACWY catch-up vaccination, other parents, and individuals with no under-age children. These surveys assessed IMD risk perceptions, attitudes towards the menACWY vaccination, trust in involved institutions, and willingness to vaccinate with the menACWY vaccine. Changes in the public perceptions and responses were studied with linear multilevel regression analyses. In addition, 103 national newspaper articles from the period 2017–2019 were thematically coded with themes about IMD and the menACWY vaccination. Results: The survey results showed clear increases in perceived IMD severity, positive attitude towards the menACWY vaccination, and willingness to vaccinate over time. Perceived IMD vulnerability remained low across all three waves, and trust in involved institutions increased slightly. Differences between the survey groups were limited. The newspaper articles discussed the rise in infections extensively, the disease symptoms, and the possible fatal outcome of IMD. In addition, while many articles discussed the menACWY vaccine shortage, few discussed the safety or effectiveness of the vaccine. Conclusion: The real-time insights into the interrelated dynamics of public perceptions, responses, and media coverage provide an integrated portrait of the social developments during this outbreak. The focus on IMD severity and the absence of doubt in the public discussion about vaccine safety may have played an important role in the societal response to this outbreak and the recommended vaccine.

Original languageEnglish
Article number633
Pages (from-to)1-16
Number of pages16
JournalBMC public health
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2022


  • Disease outbreak
  • Media
  • Meningococcal disease
  • Risk perception
  • Vaccination
  • Vaccination behavior
  • menACWY

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