As we slowly come out of this pandemic, it’s important to reflect on what we’ve learned over the past year and a half, how far we’ve come and the next steps to moving forward. Scientists around the world developed a vaccine quickly and efficiently so we can eventually reach herd immunity, but how can we encourage people to get the vaccine and dispel the myths to our communities?
We collaborated with IABC Detroit to discuss COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy, challenges faced and how the community can help dispel the myths of the vaccine. Speakers included Michael Odom, Marx Layne (representing Central City Integrated Health), Melissa Thrasher, Ascension Michigan, Amy Lefevre, Marathon Health and Mark Geary, Beaumont Health. Here’s how they are addressing these challenges.
What are some strategies you utilized to reach key audiences for covid-19 vaccine information?
Michael: Michael talked about framing your stakeholders to understand who they are and that typical media relations tactics may not always reach them. You and your team will have to get creative when distributing information on the vaccines. He recommended getting out in the community and create partnerships with organizations. While teaming up with local organizations, you can educate on the vaccines, especially its myths and misconceptions.
Melissa: During the early ages of the pandemic, Melissa and her team joined various work groups (i.e., LGBTQ+, African American, etc.) to listen, learn and develop different tactics they could use to reach their audiences. For example, to tackle misinformation in the African American and faith-based communities, they partnered with community leaders to encourage and motivate people to get the vaccine.
Amy: In the beginning, Amy and her team helped her clients captivate their audience with weekly communications. Anything they knew, their communities knew. Additionally, they created materials in advance so when they vaccine was ready to go, they were already prepared.
Mark: When Mark and his team knew the vaccine was coming, their first step was to ensure that the staff was well informed. The team needed to communicate internally and externally in a way that “keeps people engaged and on board to be vaccinated,” said Mark. The team came up with creative ideas like buttons that say, “I’m vaccinated.” Another tactic included creating a selfie wall in a clinic for those who have been vaccinated to share on social media.
Did members do any type of testimonials?
Mark: At Beaumont, someone came up with a dry erase board idea, where people wrote down why they got vaccinated, and shared pictures with others internally and online.
Melissa: At some clinics, people were encouraged to take selfies and other pictures of themselves with a hashtag indicating they were vaccinated.
How have your communications evolved since you first started campaign versus now?
Melissa: Melissa talked about how, at the beginning of the pandemic reporters wanted to know about the conditions and how many patients there were at the hospital. Now she noted that the focuses are getting people vaccinated, sharing important news, preparing for many pop-up clinics and spreading the message that the vaccine is available.
Michael: Michael talked about how communications have evolved, and originally started off with essential workers, those with medical conditions, and people of 50 and over were of utmost importance. Now they are focusing their support to the chronically homeless and those who are 12 and older.
Mark: Mark noted that things are evolving and changing. The dynamics of initial group of people ages 60 and older weren’t computer savvy so we did tons of phone calls. Now, the younger generation, who are tech savvy, want more walk-ins; they shifted from providing appointments to making it as easy as possible to show up and get your vaccine.
For those who had a focus on getting vaccinated, internally, has the vaccine changed the energy? Culture change?
Mark: “The vaccine brings hope, but it is not over,” said Mark. He doesn’t want to say that the pandemic is over because it’s not, it’ll take some time for people to get their vaccinations.
Michael: Michael said, “just because you’re vaccinated, doesn’t mean you should stop washing your hands, social distancing and wearing masks around others. The big challenge is that some people think that when you are vaccinated, you can do whatever you want, and that’s not the case. “
Thanks for your time, panelists! We learned a lot. Be sure to stay tuned for our upcoming events!
Bianca Kashat is the communications coordinator at the UAW Retiree Medical Benefits Trust and is a member of PRSA Detroit/ blog committee chair.