Public health education is the best way to get COVID vaccines in the arms
As we take another dark step – 500,000 American lives claimed by COVID-19 – speed up vaccine distribution efforts provide a promising light at the end of the tunnel. But one problem threatens to prolong the pandemic: a significant percentage of the American population are not ready to roll up their sleeves and get vaccinated.
While the number of American adults who intend to be vaccinated appears to have increase At the end of 2020, many still have concerns and do not plan to be vaccinated, taking a wait-and-see approach. This could prolong the pandemic. An investigation revealed that about 40 percent of the public are reluctant to be vaccinated, including some healthcare providers and groups disproportionately affected by the virus. A handful of other surveys have generated similar results, and data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that black and Hispanic communities are less likely to get vaccinated than the whites. And a third of the military refused vaccination, in particular young enlisted versus officers.
To tackle vaccine hesitancy, we need a national public health education campaign unlike any other we have seen in this country.
Recently the Advertising advice and the COVID Collaborative unveiled the “It’s yours”Advertising campaign to encourage Americans to get vaccinated. Images and messages from the campaign are now appearing on digital television and video, social media and audio platforms nationwide, which feature messages targeted to reach skeptics, including those in black and Hispanic communities. However, different regions of the country may have different information needs and face different vaccine implementation challenges.
Here is what should be in mind.
The campaign should emphasize that while vaccines have been developed faster than in the past, pharmaceutical companies and their partners have not cut corners on safety. Getting this out to the public means explaining key terms and concepts, including those used by regulatory bodies like the Food and Drug Administration. For example, how does a “Emergency use authorization” differ from typical FDA approval? It will also require illuminating terms used in clinical trials and gaps in public understanding of COVID-19. what is a “Serious adverse event”, how is it different from a common event, such as a sore arm and who collects this information?
While members of the medical and pharmaceutical communities understand these nuances, most people do not understand them. We cannot approach vaccine hesitancy without first breaking through the jargon.
The campaign should explain the potential benefits of the vaccine, steps taken to deal with potential risks, including side effects, and communicate what is unknown. Scientists are still to learn how well vaccines prevent people from spreading the virus that causes COVID-19 to others, even if a vaccinated person does not get sick. This is one of the reasons why wearing a mask is still recommended with other COVID-19 security measures.
The campaign must also tackle misinformation, show empathy and try to allay concerns about privacy. Confidence in pharmaceutical companies is universally low, and distrust in government and medical institutions is upper among blacks than among whites. This mistrust could lead people to worry about what personal information they are asked to share in order to get the vaccine and how their information will be used by third parties.
The kinds of personal informations Required for immunization may vary depending on whether people are immunized through their employer, primary care provider, mass immunization clinic, or other setting. The public must be informed of how information will be used, how it will be protected and how its confidentiality will be maintained.
Once these messages are tested and refined, they should be disseminated through print and online platforms.
Interpersonal communication is also a key element in combating vaccine hesitancy. Although health care providers are reliable sources information about vaccines, it can be difficult for providers to find the time for in-depth discussions about vaccines with their patients. Not to have insurance billing code specifically for immunization counseling can also be a barrier to sufficient communication between patient and provider.
Numerous reports indicate that some healthcare workers refrain from getting vaccinated. A large-scale survey sponsored by the American Nurses Association found that 66% of those surveyed were very comfortable talking with patients about other vaccines, but only 18% were very comfortable discussing COVID-19 vaccines. Health care providers need tools and resources build their confidence and skills to advise patients on the safety and effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccine.
It is not enough to have authorized vaccines. We also need to educate, motivate and facilitate public immunization as early as possible. Due to the lack of a national public health education campaign on COVID-19, the media have stepped in to fill the information gap to date. Campaigns should evolve over time based on information needs and as science evolves. It is also important to assess the impact of campaigns in order to learn from them and plan for the future.
At the heart of Biden’s national administration COVID-19 vaccination program addresses vaccine reluctance and encourages vaccine uptake. The “It’s up to you” campaign can be a good start. Until we deliver the information audiences need through targeted and rigorously tested messaging, a substantial proportion of people may not be comfortable rolling up their sleeves.
Let’s not give COVID-19 a chance to overtake its welcome.
Jennifer E. Gerber, PhD, MSc, is an epidemiologist at RTI International with a background in vaccine science and policy (@je_gerber). Lauren McCormack, PhD, MSPH, is Vice President of the Translational Health Sciences Division at RTI International and Adjunct Associate Professor at the Gillings School of Global Public Health at the University of North Carolina (@ Lmac7).