With 3 different COVID-19 vaccines now on the market in the United States, and more and more people are getting vaccinated every day, many new and complicated questions about health communications are emerging! So this week we share some tips to communicate clearly about the launch of the vaccine.
First, a little disclaimer: the vaccine landscape is changing fast! New vaccines may soon be available, and guidelines may change as researchers collect data from ongoing trials. But based on what we know now, try these tips:
- Emphasize that the 3 licensed vaccines (Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson) are safe and effective. Understanding the benefits of vaccines can be just as damaging as exaggerating them, so tell people how amazing these vaccines are! Just over a year after this devastating pandemic, we now have not 1, not 2, but 3 vaccines that can help prevent illness and death from COVID-19. That’s good health news that we can all shout from the rooftops.
- Don’t say they are exactly the same. After all the time public health professionals have spent explaining mRNA technology, people may wonder what the difference is between that approach and Johnson & Johnson’s. adenovirus delivery system. But researchers have yet to conduct a face-to-face apple-to-apple clinical trial to compare the 3 vaccines. When they do, key differences can emerge, such as one that proves most effective against a certain variant. So to avoid annoying U-turns in the future, stick to the facts: We’re still collecting data, but we know that all have been through rigorous security testing and we know all 3 work really well.
- Encourage everyone to get the first vaccine offered. Since we don’t know enough yet to say whether one vaccine is better than another, it makes sense for health communicators to encourage people to get the vaccine that is offered first. Because the the best vaccine is the one you can get before comes into contact with the virus. And with the pandemic still raging and demand for vaccines still outstripping supply, now is not the time to shop around.
- Be honest about everything we know and don’t know. Experts are hopeful that vaccines will prevent people from spreading the virus, but we need more time and data to know for sure. We are also not sure how long the protection of vaccines will last. But we may Assure people that any of the 3 vaccines will help protect them (at least in the short term) from getting sick with COVID-19.
- Keep up the calls for vaccine equity. As vaccination statistics progress across the country, it becomes clear that white people are getting vaccinated at much higher rates than black and Hispanic people. And how do 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 well. As health communicators, we must name this issue, prioritize outreach and access for communities of color, and ask legislators and institutions to do better.
- Provide an easy-to-understand guide for fully vaccinated people. Once people get their shots, they likely have a lot of questions. CDC now offers some specific guidelinesBut the gist is: Fully vaccinated people can safely do more things (huzzah!), but they can’t behave like the pandemic is over. For example, we will all be wearing our masks at the grocery store for a while. But fully vaccinated friends can hang out indoors without masks, just like in ancient times! So keep promoting the recommended safety measures, but don’t forget to celebrate the freedoms that vaccines are bringing back.
The bottom line: To communicate clearly during the vaccine launch, be transparent and encourage everyone to give their first shot at protection.
Tweet about it: Hello #HealthComm friends! Communicate about the launch of the # COVID19 vaccine? Be transparent and encourage everyone to give their first shot at protection, says @CommunicateHlth: https://bit.ly/38Vo2GO #communicateCOVID #HealthLit
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