I’m currently working on a targeted vaccine communication campaign for a healthcare client. In this episode, I’ll share some of what I’m learning—including what you’re not likely to hear anywhere else. Because when the vaccinated are communicating with the unvaccinated, all sorts of problems can arise that no amount of data can solve.
Right now, I’m working on a targeted vaccine communication campaign. In this episode, I’ll share some of what I’m learning—including the parts that no amount of data can help with. If you are working on or need help with a targeted vaccine communication campaign, this episode’s for you.
Hi everybody. I’m Dr. Anne Marie Liebel. This is 10 Minutes to Better Patient Communication from Health Communication Partners, a health-equity focused education and communication consultancy.
Today’s episode sponsored by Maven Roth group. For many people, the hardships and changes resulting from the pandemic have shifted priorities. The same old messages just don’t resonate. Because of this, Maven Roth is helping organizations evolve their messaging to better meet their audiences’ new priorities. Maven Roth can refresh your marketing to reflect today’s changes. Visit mavenroth.com.
Support this podcast series and your own professional growth with our online educational products–about bias in your communication, medical metaphors, and patient education. All are grounded in a commitment to health equity, and invite you to reflect on your practice. Available for immediate download, right now at HealthCommunicationPartners.com.
About half of the US population has been vaccinated, thanks in part to you! The individual actions and collective efforts of you–your organizations and people like you–are to credit for the fact that half the country is vaccinated. Those who were ready and willing to protect themselves against COVID-19 have rolled up their sleeves. The CDC tweeted just before the July 4th holiday: “The U.S. has made great progress in the fight against #COVID19, but more needs to be done to reach freedom from the virus.” (CDC, July 2, 2021)
The U.S. has made great progress in the fight against #COVID19, but more needs to be done to reach freedom from the virus. As variants spread, vaccines will help protect you and the people you love. Read more about the current state of the pandemic: https://t.co/F4bAyObDp1. pic.twitter.com/DlXXHnHA80
— CDC (@CDCgov) July 2, 2021
So, what about everyone else? So who are these people? Who’s not vaccinated that’s able to be? It’s been widely reported that between 140-150 million Americans aren’t vaccinated. Many of those who are unvaccinated remain skeptical or information-seeking.
Much attention has been given to Black and Brown communities disproportionately affected by the pandemic. I shared in an earlier episode a conversation between Dr. Lachelle Dawn Weeks, who’s a Black woman who is a hematology/oncology Fellow at Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, between her and an older Black male Lyft driver who was taking her to work. I’ll share that conversation as well as an interview I had with Dr. Weeks after that. Links in the show notes.
Who else tends to have lower vaccination rates? Rural americans do. People can have confidence in vaccines in general but not this one. Even health care workers can be reluctant to be vaccinated. So we know that lots of people who can be vaccinated against COVID aren’t yet.
We also know some things about vaccine hesitancy. It’s certainly not new to COVID. Vaccine hesitancy by one article was defined as “a complex cognitive and behavioral construct that varies for specific vaccines, places, and times. It represents the mid-point of a continuum ranging from complete refusal to full acceptance.” And the authors continue: The biggest concern is that without intervention, hesitancy may shift to complete refusal or remain as passive avoidance.” Links in the show notes of course.
We also know some things about vaccine acceptance. The authors of another article say “vaccine acceptance varies over time as personal decisions may be influenced by many factors.”
Organizations around the globe have taken notice. And in addition to communication to enhance vaccine acceptance, the varied communication goals include building confidence in the vaccine’s safety and efficacy, promoting trust in health authorities, and decreasing vaccine hesitancy. These goals are being pursued largely through targeted communication efforts. Targeted communication is not new. It’s not a new tool in the public health toolbox.
Addressing Implicit Bias Audiobook Bundle 2nd Edition
This newly updated and expanded bundle of audiobook, eBook, and supplementary materials will help you address unconscious bias in your own language as a health professional. 2 hours of practical, culturally and linguistically relevant advice and research-based tools, in an unfussy, conversational format. All sales support this podcast series.
So what? What’s the problem?
Targeted communication can be challenging because by nature, it’s not one-size-fits-all. There are many different approaches or processes to targeted or tailored campaigns. As the American Hospital Association says, “Remember that there is no one way to do this.”
There are also different end products that are needed. The National Association of Community Health Centers puts it this way: “Building confidence in the COVID-19 vaccines…takes many different forms of communication and outreach.”
So what you can do?
Start by taking advantage of the toolkits that are out there. I’m gonna link to the December 2020 NIH report “COVID-19 Vaccination Communication: Applying Behavioral and Social Science to Address Vaccine Hesitancy and Foster Vaccine Confidence” This report tells us that specific objectives of any targeted campaign should be these three:
- Define the goals of vaccination communication (I shared some possible ones just a moment ago)
- Identify the needs and perspectives of the intended audience
- Create and disseminate targeted and tailored messages for the intended audience
Now I’m going to tell you what you’re not likely to hear anywhere else. As you’re following the guidance out there, creating your framework, you’re developing your messages, I’m gonna encourage some reflective practice. Because when the vaccinated are communicating with the unvaccinated, all sorts of problems can arise that no amount of data is going to solve.
Alright, let’s dig in.
Emotions! The emotional landscape is part of the context around any communication—and that includes communication about vaccines. There are hard feelings all around. This is where reflective practice can be especially helpful because it invites us to step back, and get some emotional distance from what we’re doing.
Health professionals who talk or write about vaccines, yes we have research-based knowledge — as well as some strong feelings –about vaccines. It’s an enormously complex and emotionally-charged communication scenario. It’s difficult, but important, to identify our own emotions about the work we’re doing, and at least acknowledge when they may be shaping our processes or products.
While we’re talking about emotions, I’ll make a related point. It’s possible, if not downright likely, that the logical and emotional appeals that work for you may not work for your audience. Remember, as human beings we all have what we believe to be good reasons for doing what we do. The point of a targeted vaccination campaign is not to make messages that sound great to YOU, right?! Ok, moving on!
Who do you think you’re talking to? You’ve heard me say this before and I’m sure I’m gonna say it again in this series. Check your assumptions about your audience. Check your data yes, too, and check yourself. Often. At each step. What do you think about your audience? What assumptions are your making about them? We reflect on our assumptions because our assumptions make it into our work–sometimes without our notice. So take the time to notice.
For me in this campaign I’m working on, it’s not been easy to stop and keep checking in with my assumptions, with the team’s assumptions. What are we doing at the moment? Would this look differently if we had different assumptions? It’s tricky, and I’m not new at it! So give yourself some grace. But do it.
Why? Lots of reasons, but I’m going to park it on one.
Vaccine communication can be as prone to deficit perspectives as any communication. It can be easy to regard the ways other people think about vaccines as problematic. Especially when it’s not what you think is or should be normal, or basic, or fundamental.
So watch out for anything that has the hint of a whiff of sounding patronizing, overly simplistic, or elementary in tone. Or too like a form letter. Be uptight about looking for any way that the audience isn’t taken seriously and put first. We can all tell when we’re being talked down to.
Lastly: call me! As I’ve said, there is no one universal way to encourage vaccination against COVID-19, but Health Communication Partners can help. We have the know-how to identify an authentic vaccination campaign that works for the communities you’re trying to reach.
Using our health literacy and patient education expertise, we can help your organization reach the communities you want to reach. Because we collaborate with key stakeholders, do the research, and co-create an original, unique, and tailored campaign. Find me on linked or twitter, or visit HealthCommunicationPartners.com. This has been 10 Minutes to Better Patient Communication from Health Communication Partners. Audio engineering and music by Joe Liebel. I’m Dr. Anne Marie Liebel.