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3 Ways to Support Vaccine Confidence & Messaging

Written by Ann Gordon, Brandi Alford, and Allison Kennedy

Local news coverage may impact vaccine hesitancy, uptake

Local media coverage plays a valuable role in COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy—or confidence. During a time of national crisis, like the coronavirus pandemic, connecting constituents with trusted health information and clear messaging from sources such as local health officials can impact vaccine uptake.

Research has shown that the volume and frequency of media coverage influences public opinion. With a disproportionate number of articles emphasizing vaccine hesitancy, it could become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Negative vaccine media coverage may promote hesitancy, further complicating efforts by public health officials to achieve vaccine goals. 

How Local Media Covers COVID-19 Vaccine News

A quick scan of local media (i.e., newspapers, radio programs, and televisions shows) in five geographically dispersed states was conducted in February 2021. The states were strategically chosen based on having counties where the highest and lowest rates of vaccine uptake reflected a difference of at least 10%.

Results showed that most local COVID-19 vaccine media coverage was either neutral or positive. Thematically speaking, the coverage highlighted vaccine supply and logistical challenges, such as making appointments rather than hesitancy as the limiting factors.

However, now that vaccine supply has increased and some of the earlier logistical challenges have eased, the vaccine hesitancy debate in local headlines may shift to reflect safety concerns, such as the recent pause of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Local media coverage may also highlight vaccine resistance among certain sub-populations, such as minority communities or parents of youth who recently became eligible to receive the Pfizer vaccine. 

3 Strategies to Support Vaccine Confidence and Messaging

Going forward, states and local health authorities should consider the following three strategies when crafting vaccine messaging to local populations:

  • Focus on vaccine confidence and the perceived benefits instead of hesitancy. The widely used Health Belief Model, used for understanding health behaviors, emphasizes that consumers need to understand how getting vaccinated can lead to positive outcomes. Addressing the benefits of an action can increase the likelihood a person will adopt the behavior (i.e., vaccination). So, messaging such as “the majority of individuals, if given the opportunity to get vaccinated, would choose to do so,” may encourage undecided people to get vaccinated.

  • Understand where and why pockets of hesitancy exist. The sources of hesitancy may be surprising, but through building meaningful connections with hesitant groups and individuals, public health officials can actively listen and identify the roadblocks. This understanding may be especially beneficial if subsequent public health awareness and education campaigns are needed for booster shots later this year, as an example.

  • Build or strengthen relationships with local media outlets. By being proactive about engagement and using media relationships, now that the vaccine supply is no longer a constraint, local public health officials can amplify vaccine confidence messaging in local news coverage. They should emphasize increasing vaccination rates and confidence in getting the vaccine, rather than letting the hesitancy message be at the forefront. 

Further examination of how vaccine hesitancy and vaccine confidence is framed at the national, regional, and local levels as vaccination efforts continue may warrant important lessons learned for future public health endeavors aimed at improving health through vaccination.

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