Jul 2, 2020

Behavioural vaccines; cheap, effective and available now

Article highlights the need for good implementation of sustainable behavioural modifications to minimise and contain new outbreaks


In the 8 June 2020 edition of MJA InSight, CEI Senior Advisor Dr Jessica Hateley-Browne and co-authors draw on their collective behavioural science expertise to advance the notion of a ‘behavioural vaccine’ for COVID-19. The article, titled ‘Keep SAFE’: a behavioural vaccine for COVID-19, highlights the need for good implementation of sustainable behavioural modifications to minimise and contain new outbreaks whilst we wait for a proven medical vaccine.

The acronym SAFE: ‘Sanitise – Apart – Face – Elbows’ is a handy way to identify and remember a set of four crucial behaviour changes which need to be practised and reinforced across different settings. These behaviour changes seem straightforward, but it can be challenging to know how to apply the guidelines in different contexts and situations. The emotional and cognitive demands created by constant self-monitoring, new habit formation, and social isolation are likely to be significant.

But whilst we all have a part to play in adopting and sustaining changes to our usual behaviour in order to minimise risk to ourselves and others, it’s not just the responsibility of the individual. Governments, organisations and communities need to make changes to systems and settings that make the required behaviour change easier. No matter how motivated a nurse is to keep his hands clean, effective implementation of handwashing protocols also relies on his knowledge of handwashing techniques and the opportunity to act as regularly as needed.

While the ‘Keep SAFE’ behavioural vaccine is available now, and is cheap and effective, it will need to be implemented well (consistently and sustainably) for its potential to be realised. It is at this intersection of behavioural and implementation science that we need to generate new evidence that will further enhance public health efforts during the pandemic. Read the full article here:

‘Keep SAFE’: A behavioural vaccine for COVID-19: MJA InSight Journal Digital Issue 22, 8 June 2020.