Your organization has a major role to play not only in administering the COVID-19 vaccine, but also in combatting misinformation and reassuring an anxious public.
Mistrust in vaccines isn’t new. In a December 2019 Gallop poll, 11% of U.S. adults said they believe vaccines are “more dangerous than the diseases they prevent.”
But the number of Americans who are hesitant to take a COVID-19 vaccine is even greater. In May, the Associated Press and the University of Chicago released a study showing 50% of Americans were either hesitant or unwilling to take a COVID-19 vaccine. The number of Americans willing to get vaccinated has only risen to 60% recently.
“Based on public opinion research… we think somewhere around 30% of Americans intend to refuse a coronavirus vaccine once one becomes available,” said Matthew Motta, assistant professor of political science at Oklahoma State University, in an interview aired by NPR’s On the Media in December.
Your organization’s role
As a healthcare marketer and communications professional, you’re facing an uphill battle addressing various objections effectively. The U.S. needs at least 60 to 70% of the public to be immunized to reach herd immunity and restore our society to a semblance of normalcy.
The good news? The pandemic has led to generally increased trust and respect of local hospitals, health systems, medical groups, and providers across the U.S. An August 2020 poll reported more than 80% of Americans see doctors, nurses, health systems, and their local hospitals as “somewhat” or “very” trustworthy. You have an advantage over national resources: government agencies, including the FDA and CDC, were ranked at least 10% lower.
How to identify and combat vaccination objections
There’s a wide range of reasons driving reluctance to this specific vaccine. How do we reach those various groups most effectively?
“When we connect with people on the very grounds that lead them to be skeptical about vaccines and present the alternative using similar terms, we can get people on the side of the science.”
– Matt Motta, assistant professor of political science at Oklahoma State University
Understand your audiences
You’re the expert of your organization and target audiences. To identify objections and misinformation:
- Interview your providers and patients about common vaccination questions and concerns
- Monitor local news and social media conversations
- Analyze the demographic breakdown of your target populations by gender, race, religion, and political affiliation
With the caveat generalizations about demographic groups aren’t always the best way to look at populations, they may be somewhat revealing in this specific situation. According to Professor Motta and other sources, certain groups are less likely to report comfort or likelihood to get vaccinated. Those groups include:
- People of color, especially Latinx and Black people
- People with less than four years of higher education
- People with lower income levels
- Republicans, especially people who identify as supporters of President Trump
There are likely many systemic and societal reasons for this — poor past healthcare experiences attributed to misogyny or racism, scientific studies historically not including women or people of color in drug and treatment trials or performing treatments on them without informed consent, inaccessibility of the latest and best care due to cost, the hyper-politicization of the American healthcare landscape, etc.
To make your messaging as strategic as possible, analyze the demographics of your target audiences. Tailor your messaging and language about the vaccine to reassure them and meet their concerns head-on. For example:
- Highlight vaccine accessibility. Trumpet the vaccine is available for free. Explain how your organization is making it as easy as possible for patients to get vaccinated. Are you offering vaccination services at primary care offices or drive-up location? Can consumers schedule their appointment conveniently online?
- Feature providers and community leaders who represent demographic group in your content assets. Ask them to serve as influencers and spread your message where relevant.
Analyze and respond to specific objections
Different groups of people respond to different messaging due to their psychology, world views, and other factors. Once you have your list of your target audiences’ objections, analyze them and create specific responses tailored to resonate with the same people raising the objection. We’ve created a few examples below to show you how to get started.
Objection: General mistrust of science and any types of vaccinations.
Even before the pandemic, healthcare communicators fought against the debunked perceived link between childhood immunizations and autism, as well as general opposition to immunizations of any kind. However, “anti-vaxxers” make up only a small portion of those concerned about the safety and efficacy of the COVID-19 vaccine. Many people who typically trust science and vaccinations report concern with this vaccine specifically.
How to respond: Lead with empathy. A consumer who finds the vaccine suspect understandably cares deeply about the health and safety of themselves or their child — and that’s why they should get the vaccine, to protect themselves and their kids from a potentially deadly virus.
Objection: Partisanship and politicization.
People who identify as Democrats report mistrust of this vaccine specifically due to the presidential administration it was developed under.
How to respond: Overcome the partisan divide. Take a page from former presidents Obama, Bush, and Clinton. Consider recruiting community leaders who represent a variety of political views to be part of your marketing, such as a video showing them receiving the vaccine together or appeal to civic duty and responsibility by talking about the importance of getting vaccinated as “the right thing to do” to save lives and improve public health.
Objection: Speed of the vaccine’s development and rollout.
Did the vaccine receive the customary safety trials? Can I really trust something developed by a private pharmaceutical company to have my best interests at heart instead of their bottom line?
How to respond: Explain in easily understood language the rigorous processes the vaccines have gone through to reach approval. Underscore the vaccine was developed quickly because of the unprecedented need for its widespread availability to save lives.
Objection: Potentially unpleasant side effects.
How to respond: Put the risks of the vaccine in understandable context.
Getting vaccinated prevents something more unpleasant than minor side effects: a severe or potentially fatal case of the coronavirus, or spreading the virus to others. Be transparent about the vaccine’s potential side effects, but make sure to emphasize they’re typically mild.
Thousands of people get the flu vaccine each year though it’s typically only about 40 to 60% effective. The COVID-19 vaccines are likely to be more than 90% effective at preventing severe disease, but their newness drives anxiety. If you’ve received a flu vaccine, messaging that compares the higher efficacy of the COVID-19 vaccine may be convincing, as well as noting adverse vaccine side risks typically manifest in two to three months after inoculation, and the COVID-19 vaccines studies have studied participants for longer time frames than that.
How to respond: Make the risks of not getting vaccinated real.
In addition to the risk of getting sick, potentially dying, or spreading the disease to others, 30% of people who have survived COVID-19 report chronic, long-term health problems, and that group includes people under 35 with no previous health problems. Vaccination is safer than natural immunity.
How to write and deploy your message
Read writing tips and tactics for sharing COVID-19 vaccination information with:
Watch our webinar about getting started with your external and internal vaccination messaging, whether you’re a small-but-mighty one-man-band or a larger team.
Add experts to your bench. Geonetric’s content strategists, writers, and digital marketers are ready to help you analyze and optimize your coronavirus communications. Visit our COVID-19 resources hub for more articles and support.