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‘Trusted Messengers, Trusted Messages’: How To Overcome Vaccine Hesitancy

There is no “one-size-fit-all” solution to vaccine hesitancy, and nuanced approaches are key to addressing health inequities and promoting acceptance of vaccines. These 5 best practices for communications strategies can be used to build COVID-19 vaccine confidence.

Meet People Where They Are, and Don’t Try to Persuade Everyone

Develop different messages for those who are willing and need information and for those who are hesitant but open to learning more, but do not devote resources to trying to persuade those who are completely opposed to vaccination. Instead, use empathy when interacting with those who may be vaccine hesitant or skeptical, including through techniques such as motivational interviewing between providers and patients. Use language like “I understand that you might have questions about the vaccine, and I’m here to answer them as best I can.”

Avoid Repeating False Claims

Repeating false claims and misinformation risks amplifying and strengthening them. In situations in which addressing misinformation is unavoidable, warn recipients before confronting them with misinformation (e.g., “the following claim is misleading…”) and emphasize the facts over the misinformation. Practitioners may also use a pivot approach to divert those who are vaccine skeptical to concerns about the risk of disease.

Tailor Message to Specific Audiences

To be effective, COVID-19 vaccine communication needs to reflect an understanding of the populations and individuals one is trying to reach, including their concerns and motivations and who they trust. Consider the information needs of diverse audiences. If the information provided is not relevant or responsive to audiences’ needs, people will ignore the information.

Adapt Messaging as Circumstances Change

What influences people’s decisions now is likely to shift as vaccine distribution moves forward, reflecting both individual experiences, months of media coverage, and changes in the pandemic’s trajectory and the response to it. Fund and use rapid research methodologies to identify relevant priorities, specific message formats, trusted messengers, and appropriate message frequency.

Respond to Adverse Events in a Transparent, Timely Manner

Although serious adverse reactions to COVID-19 are exceedingly rare, they often receive disproportionate attention in the news and on social media. It is important to communicate information about adverse events in a timely manner and be continually transparent about what is known, what is unknown, and what should be done. It is important to acknowledge that post-vaccination surveillance is crucial to the identification of rare outcomes that are potentially vaccine related. This approach will help mitigate concerns about safety, side effects, and adverse events moving forward.

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