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While the Federal Government is committed to executing a comprehensive COVID-19 vaccination campaign, the distribution of vaccines falls individually on state and local government support. In our blog series on the vaccine rollout, Booz Allen’s Chief Medical Officer Kevin Vigilante and our health experts examine best practices and lessons learned from across the health landscape, including potential strategies and approaches that could help state and local governments improve vaccination rollouts.
Effective public health vaccination campaigns require three elements: an intervention, trained health personnel, and public acceptance. When public acceptance is absent, there’s no demand for the underlying intervention, so investment in vaccine intervention and training of health personnel is wasted.
COVID-19 remains a critical public health emergency confronting our healthcare system, economy, and collective well-being. While the speed of vaccine development, testing, and emergency authorization has been unprecedented, COVID-19 communication strategies vary at the state and local levels. Parallel communications streams from states and their counties may create confusion. It is essential for state and local authorities to speak with one voice about the importance of protecting your health and your community by getting vaccinated. Ultimately, simplicity is key in creating demand for the vaccine intervention.
Previous successful vaccine communication campaigns hold important lessons learned and best practices for any state and local public health communication strategy about the COVID-19 vaccine. With the general population, positive messages work better than negative ones. Powerful anecdotes and personal stories help stakeholders recall messages. And most populations are more motivated by calls to action to “defeat” the disease or virus than by calls to action that simply recite facts about the vaccine. We also know that trusted channels and community gatekeepers should be amplifying key messages. By and large, the public has faith in their local media, medical professionals, business owners, local sports stars, and faith-based leaders so these people and news outlets can help spread the message.
For example, the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine campaign initially focused on young women and the prevention of cervical cancer. This message served as a point of confusion for parents of young men, resulting in early vaccination rates below 25%. When messaging was adjusted to be simpler and focus on overall cancer prevention, vaccination rates among both young women and men increased to more than 50%.
Similarly, a targeted marketing campaign addressing barriers to seasonal influenza immunization in a major metropolitan area found that a targeted communications campaign can increase vaccine uptake if it reinforces the seriousness of influenza and addresses myths about the flu and the flu vaccine. Those deciding to vaccinate found the messages informative (82.6%) and believable (77%) and had a trusted healthcare provider or source recommend vaccination.
State and local governments should work together to ensure COVID vaccination communications are cohesive and consistent in their messaging. COVID-19 vaccine messages should focus on simple guidance about where to get vaccinated and how to register. Those messages should also highlight the positive outcomes of vaccination, both for entire populations and individuals. Messaging should emphasize the public service obligation of getting vaccinated for the good of the community. Communications should be tailored to specific demographic groups and address the different objections and resistance that those groups have with respect to getting vaccinated, whether based on geography, race, ethnicity, or political affiliation.
Want to stay updated on the COVID-19 vaccine rollout? Check back as we continue to share health insights. And feel free to share this post with those you care about.