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Engaging Your Community

About the COVID-19 Vaccine

February 8, 2021

Best Practices for Hospitals to Establish Trust and Encourage Vaccination

According to a Kaiser Family Foundation study conducted in December 2020, 71% of Americans say they will get the COVID-19 vaccine. But a quarter (27%) of the public remains vaccine hesitant, saying they do not plan on getting the vaccine even if it were free and deemed safe by scientists.

The main reasons and worries people have are possible side effects, lack of trust in the government, concerns the vaccine is too new, and concerns of the role of the government in the development process. Language and literacy level may also be playing into concerns, as people may be getting vaccine information from media platforms that they don’t understand and are therefore turning to less accurate info on social media or opinions shared among friends.

As a healthcare organization on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic, you recognize the dire impact the virus has had on your community and the role of the vaccine in getting your patient population back to living their best lives. So how do you most effectively educate and empower all people — especially the most vulnerable — to make the decision to get vaccinated when their opportunity comes?

Here are four steps to get started.

Identify Your Audiences

Attitudes and perspectives on the COVID-19 vaccine vary widely. There are going to be some early adopters and some who are adamantly against it, but most will be somewhere in between. While you are unlikely to change the minds of those strongly opposed, you can and should focus most of your efforts on engaging the “willing skeptics” in the middle. While there will be some national trends, who those individuals are is going to look different in your market than in another community based on the demographics of your patient population. For example, according to Kaiser Family Foundation research, about half of Black adults (52%) say they will wait to see how the vaccine is working for other people before getting vaccinated themselves, compared to about four in ten Hispanic adults (43%) and just over a third of White adults (36%).

Develop Effective Messaging

Just sending out facts about vaccines is not going to be enough to change the minds of the willing skeptics. You will need to find positive, aspirational stories to tell that inspire people to act, rather than just touting statistics. Plan to be transparent and open about all of it, including possible vaccine side effects. Speak about your audiences’ concerns with empathy and understanding and speak like a real human being (limiting the jargon). Finally, make sure that the messages you are communicating are made available in multiple languages as relevant to your patient population.

Find Trusted Influencers That Resonate

Doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers were the first to receive the COVID-19 vaccine and are generally considered trusted authorities by most, so they will be great advocates for vaccination efforts in your community. However, keep in mind that different audiences may perceive medical professionals differently. You’ll need to think through who your defined audiences most resonate with. For example, it may be a trusted pastor, a teacher, a local high school football coach, or a radio DJ. People have a tendency to think and act like their friends and family. By engaging these trusted influencers early on and encouraging them to get vaccinated, they are likely to be some of your best partners in encouraging those who look up to them to do the same. Embolden them to tell their personal stories to amplify your messaging.

Listen and Adjust as Needed

Public opinion can shift quickly. As you start to communicate, continue to ask your key partners for feedback and updates on local sentiment. Then really listen and understand what they have to say. You may find some deeper underlying issues that you did not address in your original messaging, or you may learn that the messages you thought would resonate the most are having the least effect. Make changes to your messaging strategy based on their feedback and recommendations. If they see that they’re part of the process, you will have a better ramp to engagement and trust.

AMF Media Group can help you identify the appropriate audiences, craft the right messages and find the right mix of platforms to reach community members. We stand ready to help you communicate vital prevention and vaccination efforts. Contact us if you would like to know more.