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Experts Outline 5 Ways To Promote the COVID-19 Vaccine

Woman getting vaccinated while wearing mask.

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Key Takeaways

  • A study suggests five key strategies for a way to move COVID-19 vaccine promotion forward, including making vaccines free and using public endorsements from government leaders.
  • Despite the national urgency to disseminate the COVID-19 vaccine at lightning speeds, experts say that a vaccine strategy should be rolled out without compromising accuracy and equity. 

While efforts to deliver the COVID-19 vaccine at lightning speeds are underway, convincing the majority of the U.S. population to get vaccinated poses a new challenge. A Pew Research Center study finds that 49% of people said they would not be willing or are unlikely to get vaccinated, highlighting the need for a large scale vaccine promotion strategy across the country.

“We’ve never had a vaccine roll-out quite like this one," Alison Buttenheim, PhD, MBA, Silverstein chair in global women’s health at the University of Pennsylvania's School of Nursing, tells Verywell. "The vaccine is a vital tool in the route back to “normal.""

According to Buttenheim, a national vaccine strategy is needed to not only coordinate vaccine distribution logistics, but also look at allocation, promotion, and delivery. A December study, published in JAMA and co-authored by Buttenheim and her colleagues proposes five strategies for a national COVID-19 vaccine promotion program.

What This Means For You

You can take part in promoting the COVID-19 vaccine. If you get vaccinated, you can share your experience publicly with friends and family or on social media. Being honest about any symptoms and your experience can help increase confidence in the COVID-19 vaccine.

Five Steps To Promoting the Vaccine

In order to increase confidence in the new COVID-19 vaccines, and encourage the public to get vaccinated when their turn comes, the study authors propose a promotion strategy. Their five suggestions range everywhere from instituting popular voting strategies like 'I voted' stickers to making the vaccine free and accessible to all.

Make Vaccines Free and Accessible 

Research shows if the process of getting a vaccination is hassle-free, more people will seek out the vaccine. For example, decreasing wait times, making service locations convenient, and making the paperwork easier to fill out can help reduce the friction and difficulty people might encounter when signing up to get vaccinated. In addition, ensuring that the vaccine is accessible at a variety of places including healthcare centers, pharmacies, and doctor’s offices will reduce time and other barriers.

“It has to be clear to the public when they are eligible to receive a vaccine, how to make an appointment, and where to go," Buttenheim adds. "It has to be zero cost at the point of care for individuals—no co-pays, administration fees."

Make Entry Contingent on Vaccination

Restaurants and malls have made face coverings mandatory to protect employees and customers. Similarly, making access to these settings could be conditional based on receiving the COVID-19 vaccine. Although vaccine mandates will be hard to come by, a conditional requirement would serve as a non-monetary incentive.

"People want access to certain places like stores, Disney World, or schools and only allowing people in if they have been vaccinated will incentivize people to get vaccinated,” Kevin Volpp, MD, PhD, director of Penn Center for Health Incentives and Behavioral Economics (CHIBE), tells Verywell. 

Suggested settings for conditional access includes hospitals, living facilities, and retail spaces. More discussion about whether institutions would allow this will likely unfold in the coming months. 

Public Endorsements

From Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s vaccine Instagram Live to President-elect Joe Biden’s vaccine shot on national television, Buttenheim and Volpp want to underscore the importance of governmental leaders endorsing the vaccine. 

“We’ve already seen the Instagram posts and tweets from elected officials and front-line healthcare workers getting vaccinated," Buttenheim says. "This can increase buy-in and confidence in the public."

There are two potential caveats to this approach that Buttenheim says to be careful of. First, Buttenheim cautions celebrities and governmental leaders from making it seem like they’re receiving special treatment or jumping the line. Second, skeptics are likely to dismiss these public vaccination displays as stunts. Therefore, “leaders and celebrities can boost the effectiveness of these posts by following them up with updates on any reactions they are having to the vaccine and how those wane over time,” Buttenheim says. 

Use a Waitlist

According to Volpp, people place value on things they perceive to be scarce. Marketing research supports this point. One way to motivate people to get vaccinated is by creating a waiting list. It becomes “a way to have people feel invested in getting vaccinated and then creates an ‘endowment effect’ whereby people won’t want to lose their place in line,” Volpp says. 

Make It a Public Act

Similar to approaches used for voting promotion such as the “I voted” stickers and social media testimonials, Buttenheim sees value in forms of public engagement. Healthcare workers and members of Congress have taken their “I got the shot” stickers to Instagram and Twitter. “Just think about how much people love to get their “I voted” stickers at the polls—the “I got the shot” stickers should generate the same excitement as people signal their excitement about the vaccine to their social networks,” Buttenheim adds. 

Making the Vaccine Strategy Equitable 

Experts recognize that the public has raised valid concerns about vaccinations and their ties to medical mistrust in communities of color. While the aforementioned vaccination strategies are well-intentioned, Buttenheim calls for these efforts to begin with humility and to dignify the concerns that are being voiced about the vaccine development process, allocation, and roll-out. 

“The 'nudge' strategies I mentioned above work well to help people already motivated to get the vaccine to follow through on that motivation," Buttenheim says. "That’s a very different task from the much harder work for rebuilding trust and meeting people where they are. The impact of prior medical exploitation and unconsented experimentation cannot be overstated.”

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