COVID-19 Vaccine Outreach: Best Practices for Engaging & Encouraging Consumers

December 18, 2020 Gary Call, M.D.

History has been made with the rapid development and emergency use approval of a COVID-19 vaccine in the U.S., with another candidate currently under review with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). But as a major contender in the fight against COVID-19 emerges, vaccine hesitancy and other barriers to immunization threaten to undermine this monumental achievement — and with it, public health. At the same time, distribution plans vary by state and population, requiring national plans to tailor their outreach to each specific group.

With misinformation and uncertainty continuing to spread alongside the virus, there is a vital need for health plans and state agencies to get accurate, timely and actionable information into the hands of healthcare consumers. The following are five best practices to help states and healthcare organizations engage and equip their populations with the information they need to understand and access the COVID-19 vaccine during this critical time.

1. Communicate in Context

Research has increasingly shown that people want to hear from their health plans, with J.D. Power’s 2020 U.S. Commercial Member Health Plan Study linking satisfaction directly to engagement. Amid the pandemic, communication between healthcare professionals and consumers has become ever more crucial as mitigation measures change and new information becomes available.

The rapid introduction of a vaccine to protect against COVID-19 underscores this need. If you have the data to support a timed, population-specific outreach plan, take the opportunity to ensure those who are eligible for the vaccine know when and where to access it; otherwise, ensure your general outreach provides information and resources from reputable sources, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), official state websites and other trusted organizations. When communicating with diverse populations, take care to do so in a way that is culturally sensitive and relevant to their needs and preferences.

2. Engage, Educate, Empower

Long before a COVID-19 vaccine hit the market, many Americans had expressed concerns about its potential safety and efficacy — an issue that only grew more widespread as the development process progressed. According to data from the Pew Research Center, just 51% of adults in the U.S. said they would definitely or probably get vaccinated against COVID-19 when surveyed in September 2020, versus 72% back in May. (Johns Hopkins data cited in JAMA places the threshold for herd immunity at 70%). Seventy-seven percent of respondents believed a vaccine would likely be approved without a full understanding of its safety and effectiveness.

It is incumbent on healthcare professionals to address these concerns head-on by providing scientific and evidence-based information about the safety and efficacy of the COVID-19 vaccine. This includes explaining what people can expect post-vaccination and how to differentiate between normal side effects of the vaccine and COVID-19 symptoms. Emphasize the importance of continued health and safety measures prior to receiving the vaccine and as data on whether vaccinated individuals can still spread the virus comes to light.

3. Assess & Address

Supplementing publicly available data with your own primary research can provide a strong basis for population-specific outreach. Survey or speak with your members to gauge whether they intend to receive the COVID-19 vaccine and to understand the specific concerns they may have. For those who are hesitant — for instance, those who respond with “maybe” or “no” when asked if they plan to get the vaccine — conduct a barrier analysis to get to the root of their concerns. With this information, you can then tailor your communications to address hesitancy and dispel myths or other sources of misinformation.

4. Follow Up

In order to be effective, both the newly approved Pfizer vaccine and Moderna’s leading candidate will require two doses — 21 and 28 days apart, respectively. In addition to promoting continued adherence to CDC guidelines prior to completing the vaccine regimen, timed follow-up reminders are vital to ensuring people return for their second dose. With the vaccine initially in limited supply and available only from select sources, outreach must make clear exactly when and where to access the vaccine, especially as the most vulnerable groups are eligible.  

5. Streamline Your Efforts with Health Engagement Management

Multi-channel, multi-touch engagement solutions rooted in behavioral science can promote vaccine acceptance and access among your member or patient populations. HMS Eliza is one such solution and the gold standard in health engagement management. Designed by health engagement experts and drawing on billions of interactions with healthcare consumers, Eliza is proven to motivate action.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Eliza has successfully delivered critical healthcare information to more than 10 million consumers, 60% of whom found these engagements helpful and actionable. Since 2017, Eliza has facilitated more than 7.5 million immunization-specific outreaches, delivering the following results:

  • A 34% increase in flu immunizations in one season
  • 60% of consumers verified their address and agreed to receive emails
  • 86% of consumers said the outreach was helpful or valuable
  • Evidence-based information counteracted the notion that the flu shot caused the flu — a belief held by 46% of people surveyed

Learn how HMS’ fast, flexible health engagement management solution can help you reach, engage and encourage your population to access the COVID-19 vaccine. Start the conversation — with us, and healthcare consumers — at hms.com/eliza.

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