WEF marketer experts believe that health officials can use the theory of advertising to achieve herd immunity to COVID-19. To date, efforts to promote vaccination have focused on vaccine distribution, but considering what people think of vaccination could convince skeptics to give it a shot.
Community leaders and local health workers can play a key role in tackling vaccine-related fear and misinformation, and incentives from states, cities, and employers can help skeptics infiltrate local vaccination centers.
According to existing expert estimates, in order to achieve herd immunity, 60-70% of the world’s population must be vaccinated against COVID-19. This makes overcoming indecision, procrastination, and refusal to vaccinate with COVID-19 the greatest marketing communication challenge of our lives.
The US is moving “from a supply to a demand problem,” as noted earlier this year by Dr. David Kessler, Chief Scientist for the US Government’s COVID-19 Response Task Force. Research shows that other countries, including Australia, France, Russia, South Africa, Japan and Germany, will face similar demand challenges once their vaccine production and distribution challenges are resolved.
At this point, there simply are not enough patient-centered solutions to deal with the problems of hesitation, procrastination and refusal to vaccinate. Our research is focused on creating and implementing such solutions to inform and persuade customer segments to take action, and we believe this approach can also drive awareness efforts about the COVID-19 vaccine.
Patient-centered solutions to vaccine hesitancy
The decision-making process for clients – or in this case for patients – is often understood using an effect hierarchy structure. It assumes that buyers first think, then perceive and feel, and then buy / do. With regard to the COVID-19 vaccine, this means that patients must first “think” about it, that is, learn as much as possible about the vaccine. Patients should then positively “feel” it, forming within themselves the belief that an injection should be given. Finally, patients must “do” it – in other words, get vaccinated.
Most politicians have emphasized the third stage, that is, the “make” stage, however, this approach makes sense only among the population interested in vaccination. But those who delay vaccination, hesitate and reject vaccination should first be encouraged to go through the “think” and “feel” stages. Without these stages, patients are unlikely to move on to the “do” stage.
Using examples from the United States – a country currently facing more demand for vaccines than a supply problem – we have developed three guidelines on how best to use this theory to clear vaccine doubts.
1. Raise your knowledge and overcome misinformation
First, we need to focus on the “thinking” stage by asking why people hesitate, procrastinate and refuse the vaccine? Research suggests that the main reason is that these patients are likely to believe that the vaccine invention and approval process was rushed, with underestimated side effects. This problem can be addressed if local leaders actively address and educate skeptics through media such as phone calls, direct mail, television, billboards and digital channels.
For example, one rural parish in the US state of Louisiana attracted African American preachers and local religious leaders who made direct calls to their congregation. This resulted in a 9% increase in the number of vaccinations in the ward per week.
Vaccine advertisements in Iowa feature a current congresswoman who is also an experienced physician. This approach often appeals to people being able to hear the opinions of their political party leaders with medical experience, while at the same time enabling them to make personal decisions without pressure.
Stronger approaches are also needed to tackle vaccine misinformation, especially on social media. Previous research suggests that having medical sources directly rebutting inaccurate claims online is particularly effective.
2. The perception of vaccination needs to be improved
People who are hesitant to vaccinate have developed strong sentiments against it, so using trusted sources of information can improve their attitude towards the vaccine. Research shows that those who hesitate trust health care providers, political and religious leaders, but are more likely to rely on their communities to provide “feeling” or emotion-based conviction when making decisions.
One Louisiana nurse used a particularly effective tactic. She called her patients who were hesitant to get vaccinated to talk about how she was skeptical about vaccinations but changed her mind after her husband passed away due to COVID-19.
In the US state of Oregon, Indian tribes reported relatively high vaccination rates. Among the initiatives put forward by these communities to promote vaccination, the Confederation of Silesian Indian Tribes has used direct phone calls, discussions and social media applications to vaccinate relatives and friends.
Another way to foster the feelings of vaccine skeptics is to play on the fear of missing out, both socially and economically.
3. Promote action
Mass vaccination sites are critical to making it easier for patients who want to be vaccinated. However, reaching people who are unsure of vaccination will require proactive tactics.
First, incentives can work. Several states and cities in the United States provide cash incentives and free transportation, or run lotteries and major party events to encourage vaccinations. Companies should also be encouraged to contribute by providing paid time off, free products and lottery giveaways.
Another useful tactic is to make vaccination more convenient. In business, we call this “going to market” or, in this case, “delivering the vaccine to patients.” For example, the Pennsylvania Primary Health Care Network, USA, has created a mobile health facility to provide people in rural and underserved areas with an easy way to get vaccinated. Colorado’s Southwestern health care system has created “vaccination teams” to reach long-term care facilities and households who find it difficult to reach mass vaccination sites. Such approaches provide proactive microvaccination sites specifically designed for hesitant vaccinations and refuseniks.
We believe that adopting a patient-centered approach to communicating with the COVID-19 vaccine will improve efforts to increase global herd immunity. Such tactics can hinge on ensuring the safe opening and recovery of the economy, as well as overcoming this serious problem for global health and the economy.