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April 21, 2021

Experts Turn to Marketing to Fight Vaccine Hesitancy

By Jay Bemis | Advertising Systems Inc.
Some of the busiest marketers today are those battling COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy, which is become a growing concern among government officials, the medical profession and marketing agencies alike.

The New York Times succinctly summarized the challenge that those anti-hesitancy allies face with this headline from today: “Half of American adults have received at least one shot of the coronavirus vaccine. Now comes the hard part: persuading the other half to get it.”

Reaching herd immunity with the nation’s vaccines — which experts say would be shots in arms of 70 percent to more desirably 90 percent of the population — may eventually come down to the efforts that local medical professionals and marketing agencies take.

Medical Experts Taking Aim at Specific Populations

The New England Journal of Medicine earlier this year released a “12-strategy” plan for medical professionals to follow in convincing people to get vaccinated. Those strategies include “Predict and Address Negative Attributions.”

“For example, policymakers may choose to make vaccines available first in historically disadvantaged neighborhoods, aiming to get protection early to people who can least afford a setback,” the Journal of Medicine said.

“But a possible negative attribution is that these people are being treated as ‘lab rats’ to test the vaccine’s safety before it’s given to wealthier people. Anticipating and combating negative attributions requires listening openly to the vaccine-hesitant, building trust, and addressing false attributions directly and consistently.”

Health officials in Alabama, where fewer than 40 percent of adults have had at least one shot, have done just that. They addressed vaccine hesitancy among Blacks by putting “a lot of time into trying to build local relationships with trusted voices” — an effort that Scott Harris, the state health officer, told The NY Times is working.

Rural whites in Alabama are a different story; they seem more hesitant of COVID-19 vaccines because that segment of the population is “mistrustful of politicians in general and maybe state government in particular,” Harris added.

He did note that rural whites in Alabama do seem to trust what their own physicians might advise about getting vaccines, though.

Indeed, the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF), a non-profit organization that has provided trusted information on national health issues since 1948, reported recently that eight in 10 Americans say they will decide whether to get a vaccine based on what information their own doctors might give them.

“Because they are such trusted messengers, doctors and nurses are in a special position to put their voices where their arms have already been,” Drew Altman, KFF president and COO, said. “They can get the word out to their communities that they have been vaccinated and encourage community members to get vaccinated, too.”

Where Social Marketers Might Now Take Aim

In a recent column, “Social Marketing Key to Vaccine Rollout and Acceptance,” longtime business consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton says there are four ways that local social marketers can help their local medical professions fight vaccine hesitancy.

Those include debunking vaccine misconceptions, as medical experts are trying to do, but also:

  • Incentivizing People to Get Vaccinated

Make vaccinations a condition for participation, Booz Allen auggests. “For example, domestic and international air travel could be conditional on getting the vaccine. Attending school or college in-person could make COVID-19 immunization a requirement. And anyone wanting to attend concerts and sporting events might need to be vaccinated to be able to go.”

  • Using the Power of Social Media

Social media platforms already are providing users with virtual “I’m vaccinated” badges for their profiles. Nurses, physicians, President Joe Biden, former U.S. presidents and celebrities all are posting images of getting jabs in their arms.

Says Booz Allen: “While social media is rife with vaccine disinformation, popular and accessible platforms, like YouTube, could also provide a channel to create and distribute valuable, shareable content with tremendous potential to increase vaccination rates among the most hesitant or resistant populations, particularly young people.”

  • Measuring and Finetuning the Messaging

Marketing agencies can break out high-tech methods such as artificial intelligence to see if messaging needs to be adjusted in particular areas, according to Booz Allen.

“Reviewing where messages are circulated (e.g., Twitter, Facebook, dating apps, news outlets) helps to determine reach and knowledge of messages,” Booz Allen notes.

“Coupling reach evaluation with outcome assessments will show whether target audiences engaged in the desired behavior — obtaining a vaccine — after being exposed to messages. If audiences don’t get vaccinated, then messages need to be adjusted to better meet their needs.”

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