With 3 different COVID-19 vaccines now being marketed in the US and more and more people getting vaccinated every day, many new complex health questions are emerging. So this week, we’re sharing some tips for communicating clearly about vaccine introduction.
First, a little disclaimer. the vaccine landscape is changing rapidly. New shots may be available soon, and guidelines may change as researchers gather data from ongoing trials. But based on what we know now, try these tips:
- Emphasize that all 3 vaccines are allowed (Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson) are safe and effective. Understanding the benefits of a vaccine can be just as harmful as overestimating them; so tell people how amazing these shots are! Just over a year after this devastating pandemic ended, we now have not 1, not 2, but 3 vaccines that can help prevent illness and death from COVID-19. That’s some good health news we can all shout from the rooftops.
- Don’t say they are exactly the same. After all the time we public health people have spent explaining mRNA technology, people may wonder about the difference between that approach and Johnson & Johnson’s adenovirus delivery system. But researchers have not yet done an apples-to-apples, head-to-head clinical trial to compare the 3 vaccines. When they do, key differences can emerge, such as which one is more effective against a particular variant. So, to avoid a disturbing line, stick to the facts. we’re still collecting data, but we know that they’ve all gone through rigorous security testing, and we know that all three work really well.
- Encourage everyone to get the first vaccine they are offered. Because we don’t yet know enough to say whether one vaccine is better than another, it makes sense for health promoters to encourage people to get the vaccine they are offered first. Because the best vaccine is the one you can get before you are in contact with a virus. And with the pandemic still raging and vaccine demand still outstripping supply, now is not the time to shop.
- Be honest about what we know and don’t know. Experts hope vaccines will prevent the virus from spreading to humans, but we need more time and data to know for sure. We are also not sure exactly how long protection from vaccines will last. But we can Reassure people that any of the 3 vaccines will help protect them (at least in the short term) from getting COVID-19.
- Keep up the calls for vaccination equality. As vaccination statistics are released across the country, it is clear that whites are receiving vaccinations at a much higher rate than blacks and Hispanics. And because we know that racism and other social factors make black and Hispanic people more likely to get sick and die from COVID-19, these vaccine disparities are not only unfair, but deadly. As health communicators, we must name this issue, prioritize outreach and access to communities of color, and call for policy makers and institutions to do better.
- Offer easy-to-understand guidelines for fully vaccinated people. When people get their shots, they will likely have a lot of questions. The CDC now offers some specific guidelines, but the gist is this: fully vaccinated people can do more things safely (huzzah!), but they can’t behave like the epidemic is over. For example, we’ll all be wearing our masks to the grocery store for a while yet. But fully vaccinated friends can sit at home without masks, just like in the old days. So continue to promote the safety measures offered, but don’t forget to mention the freedoms that vaccines bring back.
Bottom line: To communicate clearly during vaccine introduction, be transparent and encourage everyone to get vaccinated the first time.
Tweet about it. Hey #HealthComm folks! Discussing the introduction of a #COVID19 vaccine? Be transparent and encourage everyone to protect themselves the first time, says @CommunicateHlth: https://bit.ly/38Vo2GO #communicateCOVID #HealthLit