The number of U.S. coronavirus cases is climbing. Cities and states are reverting to previous safety measures to stop the spread of the virus in what elected officials and public health experts are predicting could be “a dark winter.”
Yet, signs of hope are emerging.
Biotechnology company Moderna announced trial results showing its COVID-19 vaccine candidate is nearly 95-percent effective. The news of Moderna’s success came only days after Pfizer reported its vaccine candidate to be more than 90-percent effective in the third phase of its trial. In addition, neither Moderna nor Pfizer reported any significant safety concerns.
While U.S. public health experts, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, have expressed encouragement in the initial reports of the vaccine candidates’ effectiveness, it is uncertain to what extent the reports will influence people’s willingness to get vaccinated.
“We know that people’s perceptions of the safety and effectiveness of a vaccine are key predictors of willingness to get vaccinated,” said Kelly Daily, Ph.D., associate professor of communication at La Salle University. “But those are not the only factors that go into the decision-making process.”
Daily’s expertise centers on analysis of strategic health communication practices and the influence of media coverage on health decisions, like the decision to get vaccinated.
Recent survey results from The Harris Group back up that conclusion, revealing that two-thirds of Americans are willing to get a COVID-19 vaccine if it is more than 50-percent effective. However, a third of Americans are still hesitant even when hypothetical efficacy rises to 90 percent.
“When deciding whether to get vaccinated, people also consider how likely it is they will get the disease and how serious getting the disease will be for them, and how easy or difficult it will be for them to get to a health care professional to get vaccinated,” Daily said.
Daily continued: “When developing messages to encourage vaccination, we might consider including not only the health benefits of getting vaccinated, but also the social benefits, like being able to attend graduations and weddings without fear of an outbreak. When people’s perceptions of both the health benefits and social benefits outweigh any barriers, people will be more willing to get vaccinated.”
Daily recommends that health agencies start talking with health care professionals now so there is a communication strategy in place once COVID-19 vaccines are available to the general public.
“Nuanced approaches to vaccine communication will be necessary for those who are vaccine hesitant, but the simplest communication strategies can be effective for encouraging a good number of people,” Daily said. “Doctors’ offices, pharmacies, and clinics can use systems already in place to let their patients know when COVID-19 vaccines are available. They can provide simple and convenient ways to make an appointment to get vaccinated, and even send out reminder messages. We also know a recommendation from a trusted medical professional is the top predictor of getting vaccinated, so including a statement specifically recommending a COVID-19 vaccine is a good idea, as well.”
—Christopher A. Vito