Just a year ago, a COVID-19 vaccine seemed like a distant promise. Now, vaccination efforts are ramping up across the country, and eligibility is expanding.
In some states, COVID-19 vaccination eligibility is already open to anyone over 16 years old. By the end of April, at least 36 states plan to be at that stage.
As of April 6, 2021, 32.4% of the US population has received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. Experts believe that anywhere from 70 to 90% of the population must be vaccinated in order to achieve herd immunity.
Sources: Our World in Data, The New York Times
As eligibility expands, health systems shoulder the responsibility to reach more and more people — many of whom remain hesitant. Factors like social media, anti-vaccination groups, religious objections, the lack of long-term data, and our country’s history of racist experimentation in medical care and research are the root of this uncertainty.
Meanwhile, health systems must make sure vaccines aren’t going to waste, unlike the nearly 4,500 doses that were ruined in Tennessee in February alone.
On a recent episode of Modern Healthcare’s Next Up, we spoke with Tanya Andreadis, Chief Marketing Officer at UCLA Health. She has navigated the pandemic in one of the most hard-hit counties in the US — LA County. This also happens to be one of the most diverse counties in race, language, socioeconomic status, and mindsets about healthcare and the vaccine.
Here are three takeaways from Tanya that certainly apply as vaccine eligibility is expected to broaden this summer.
1. Get Feedback Quickly
“We have a report that we send every day to core groups of people in the organization that collectively brings together all the feedback that we’ve received that day on social media channels, in the form of emails, [and] from our web forms,” Tanya says.
When the messaging is not crystal clear, fix it. For instance, vaccine eligibility is changing rapidly — and health systems must ensure their patient population knows exactly when they can make an appointment.
“We had worked so hard to refine [the messaging], and we thought, ‘This is crystal clear, and this is so helpful.’ And it wasn’t actually because we’re so in our own worlds with the language we use and the understanding that we have,” she explains.
One solution? “Simplify, simplify, simplify — four or five levels of simplification,” Tanya says.
2. Bring In Community Support
Tanya’s COVID-19 initiative, TeamLA, brought together major institutions throughout Los Angeles to combat the virus together. It generated more than 12 million unique impressions in its first three months alone.
“We are embedded with these partnerships with really highly acclaimed sports teams, people that Los Angeles adores — the Dodgers and the Lakers and even our own Bruins at UCLA. We thought we would ride that energy around sports and try to appeal to our community, regarding COVID-19 as a team sport: ‘Let’s fight this together,’” Tanya explains.
Whether it’s about vaccine hesitancy or finally snagging a vaccine appointment, community efforts can be a game-changer.
Keep in mind — community partnerships are not limited to marquee names. Reach out to your donors, your alumni, local membership organizations, and others who have an engaged captive audience. “It’s partnering with those community organizations, like Boys and Girls Clubs [and] churches,” says Tanya.
3. Be Ready To Pivot
People are sick of hearing about masks and social distancing. It’s sad — but true. So, Tanya’s team shifted their messaging.
“We pivoted. Our new platform for messaging is not so much on citizen action, team sport, or unhealthy behaviors. Now, it’s a responsibility to seek information — to get the facts, and to look to science,” Tanya says.
If your health system’s message is around seeking information about the vaccine, hopefully your website supports that. It should be the place people are turning to for reliable information.
The shift will depend on your community’s sentiment as the vaccine rollout expands. “Being really in touch with public sentiment is one way to do that. Think about, ‘What are people wanting to hear right now? How can we add value, how can we contribute?’” she explains.
The role of healthcare organizations in the COVID-19 pandemic is nowhere near over. As vaccinations ramp up and new guidance is developed, patients need accurate and trustworthy information — and that starts with their local healthcare organizations.