This research was a part of a contestable rapid response initiative launched by the Health Research Council of New Zealand and the Ministry of Health in response to the 2009 influenza A pandemic. The aim was to provide health authorities in New Zealand with evidence-based practical information to guide the development and delivery of effective health messages for H1N1 and other health campaigns. This study contributed to the initiative by providing qualitative data about community responses to key health messages in the 2009 and 2010 H1N1 campaigns, the impact of messages on behavioural change and the differential impact on vulnerable groups in New Zealand.
Qualitative data were collected on community responses to key health messages in the 2009 and 2010 Ministry of Health H1N1 campaigns, the impact of messages on behaviour and the differential impact on vulnerable groups. Eight focus groups were held in the winter of 2010 with 80 participants from groups identified by the Ministry of Health as vulnerable to the H1N1 virus, such as people with chronic health conditions, pregnant women, children, Pacific Peoples and Māori. Because this study was part of a rapid response initiative, focus groups were selected as the most efficient means of data collection in the time available. For Māori, focus group discussion (hui) is a culturally appropriate methodology.
Thematic analysis of data identified four major themes: personal and community risk, building community strategies, responsibility and information sources. People wanted messages about specific actions that they could take to protect themselves and their families and to mitigate any consequences. They wanted transparent and factual communication where both good and bad news is conveyed by people who they could trust.
The responses from all groups endorsed the need for community based risk management including information dissemination. Engaging with communities will be essential to facilitate preparedness and build community resilience to future pandemic events. This research provides an illustration of the complexities of how people understand and respond to health messages related to the H1N1 pandemic. The importance of the differences identified in the analysis is not the differences per se but highlight problems with a "one size fits all" pandemic warning strategy.