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The Communication Problem with a COVID Vaccine




The news that so many have waited for is here: COVID-19 vaccines are on their way, and in 2021 the world may turn the corner on this terrible illness. To achieve herd immunity, only 70% of the US population needs to get vaccinated. Good news, except it turns out that 40% of Americans are wary of the vaccines.


With a vaccinated general public, restaurants can reopen, airplanes, buses and trains can run, hotels can be open. And stores can welcome shoppers. The show can go on! Yes, masks and social distancing are needed for a while — but this would be a huge step toward normalcy.


So, why are people so unsure? A lot of reasons. Interestingly, the research shows that the doubt is on all sides of the political divide. But, the care anti-vax movement, growing unchecked for years is part of the problem too. The anti-vax movement, based on doubts and junk science, has been around for generations. But in recent years, it has spread with a Libertarian bend, as parents refuse to vaccinate their children against major diseases, claiming it could lead to autism-despite numerous reports that show that there is no connection. Outbreaks of measles have shown the devastating impact of no vaccinations— and the concept has grown to include anti-fluoride and anti-wind power movements based on false science and health care myths.


On top of that there is the privatization of vaccines-along with the 45th president often spouting anti-vax dog whistle at rallies, and both praising the COVID-19 vaccines then attacking the firms that make them. The perceived rush to get a vaccine has fanned concerns on the progressive side of the fence. All this breeds a new mind set of vaccine hesitancy.


So, what has the government been doing in the meantime? The State of New Hampshire’s DHHD has a page with draft information, and a draft plan. National HHS has a draft pan too. But where is the work that should be beyond draft stages by now?


Ten years ago, we talked about the Affordable Care Act with research, focus groups, digital and traditional outreach. I could see these tactics working now too — as any plan based on research is on the right track — but for them to work the foundation needs to be laid well in advance. Obstacles and impediments need to be found, the right messaging needs to be tested and in place — and planning and preemption well under way…


If that gets done, then good things may happen, if not, the struggle to vaccinate the 20% of those that are vaccine cautious, will be long and difficult and the impact of COVID-19 will be a long road to overcome?


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