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[Vlog] COVID-19 Vaccinations: Addressing Fears and Barriers

Video Transcript:

Paul Griffiths: Hey everyone, my name is Paul Griffiths. I’m a principal in the digital health strategy practice at Perficient. I am here today to talk about vaccines and why some people might not want to receive them. And hopefully what we can do to help encourage more folks to get the vaccine for COVID-19.

I’m joined by really one of my favorite people, Chandra Craven, a senior healthcare strategist with us also at Perficient. And I would love to just start this conversation, Chandra, with just a little bit of background on: Why health care? and What’s your passion about health care, especially?

Chandra Craven: Thank you for asking me that question. I love that question, actually. I spent the majority of my childhood shadowing my mom. She’s a nurse. She’s worked for 45 years as a nurse at every single hospital, nursing home, penitentiary in Massachusetts. And I’ve really watched her deliver amazing care, and also being able to really see what good access to health care can do. It can really be transformative to people’s lives, especially in areas and in communities where healthcare access is either limited or is non-existing. Because of that experience, I spent the last 20 years working as a marketer and communicator for several hospitals in Massachusetts, focused really on helping to kind of ensure that those health systems are helping every patient get access to quality of care. That’s what I care about.

PG: That’s a great introduction. So obviously COVID-19 has been the talk consistently for now almost a year. We’ve had this amazing breakthrough in the fact that we even have a vaccine so quickly. Chandra, why do you think there are some communities that are maybe resistant to just the idea of receiving it, or receiving it now?

CC: You know, I think that’s a great question. But to answer that, I think the first thing we have to do is really think about how every community is a little bit different. Their understanding about healthcare is different. Their history with the healthcare system and the health insurance system is very different in this country. And we need to take each one, piece by piece. Because each one has a different relationship. Right?

So I’m going to just take Black Americans – I have an actual affinity, obviously – as an example. So, you know, if you think about it for most Black Americans, including myself, many of us are descendants of people who were part of the Tuskegee Experiment, or were here during the time of the Tuskegee Experiment. For those who don’t know, that was from 1932 to 1972. There were about 600 low-income African-American men in Tuskegee who had syphilis, and they were tracked by the U.S. government without their awareness. Completely.

Many of these people passed that disease on to their family members for quite a considerable amount of time. As the stated purpose of that experiment was really to better understand the natural course of syphilis, many Black Americans, when they later found out about it – especially in the 70s, – really felt at the time (and we continue to feel that way) kind of like the canaries in the coal mine. You know, utilized by scientists and doctors for experimentation without their consent or concern for their health.

You’re even starting to hear a little bit about like, “Why don’t we get the kids back into (the inner city kids) back into the schools?” Same kind of conversation is being had. And people are naturally fearful. They don’t want to, they don’t want to be the canaries.

So I think in addition to that, you have to add on the fact that those particular patients and those type of communities come from areas where health care is a … they are facing a lot of healthcare disparities. So they may be facing higher rates of mortality throughout many medical disciplines. Everything from cancer to heart disease to even maternal medicine. So black women are four times likelier to die from pregnancy. And that’s something… that’s the truth of our country.

I think that the first thing that people have to do, especially for a health care system, is really to emphasize that you understand where the fear comes from as it pertains to the history, as it pertains to their understanding. Don’t underplay it. Don’t disregard it. It’s important, but learn to understand it. And understand what those concerns are so you can attack those concerns.

PG: Yeah, so it sounds like, especially for Black Americans, there’s some historical concerns about being the first to receive something. And this kind of unfortunate history of being experimented on. And that creates real resistance. And when that’s combined with populations that have, you know, maybe inequitable access to healthcare, it’s kind of a double whammy. Where it’s not only, “Is there some fear?” There’s not even a lot of great other examples that people can point to.

So, you know, given that, that part of what we all need to do to fight COVID successfully is get vaccinated. How do we get over this? Or how do you think, you know, how do you think you combat this resistance? Do you think that this resistance is always going to be there?

CC: I think with the right targeted communications to each one of those groups – again it could be African-American, it could be aging, it could be people where English is their second language, it just depends – you have to have the right messaging that really resonates with each group.

So you really want to understand your audiences.

As well as, I think when the access to the vaccine is greater and becomes more available to just about the generic public, I think you’re going to see that people are really going to give way to less resistance, because they’re going to want to get back to some normalcy. And I think the only pathway that anyone has seen to get us back to normalcy is actually taking the vaccine.

Let us not forget we live in a country where people take the MMR vaccine because – you know, everybody’s kid gets the MMR vaccine. We all take the Polio and you know Rubella and Mumps. So obviously people are not that hesitant against vaccines.

This will be an “over time” type of thing, and again it’s all about accessibility and communication.

PG: So it sounds like, you know, for hospitals who are thinking about how to address these issues, talking about the success stories coming out of this and showing that there are maybe individuals in the communities that they’re really trying to influence, if they can show a proper representation and communication. But what are some other things that that hospitals can do to help influence that decision to kind of receive this really life-saving vaccine for all of us?

CC: Absolutely. First thing again – and I’ll say this again until the cows come home but I think – it’s really important that you want to realize that the health consumer experience is real. And you know their fears are real. Their concerns are real.

You’ve gotta address those. You can’t just kind of blanket and say, “The science is good enough” and “Take it, and let’s just move on.” You can’t fight something until you first understand its origin.

So it’s important to take that time to identify your key audiences. What are their fears? What are their challenges? And then you attack those piece by piece and piecemeal, so you can break down that mythology. Right?

For your patients – I’m going to go through a couple of examples, but let’s see here – so for your patients whom English is a second language, are you even providing COVID-19 materials in their preferred language? Are you addressing them as an actual audience?

For your aging patients, who may or may not be tech savvy: are you offering all of your COVID-19 communications, including vaccination information, availability online as well as in print? From flyers to even signage? You know, there are going to be some who are just they’re just not privy to going online. You need to have that information… you need to have that information as well for their caregivers. Oftentimes, many of us are serving as our parent’s caregivers and healthcare proxy. Are your physicians reminding them during their actual appointment?

So if they’re somebody who’s chronically ill or they have some sort of comorbidity, and they’re constantly seeing their physician? Are your physicians, are your front staff, are all your medical teams speaking to these individuals and telling them about the importance of the vaccine? Not only that, but when they are going to be available to them?

You know, a big point I really want to make this clear is if your scheduling ability for vaccinations is in your patient portal, and your patient portal is blocked – meaning that you can only make an appointment through your patient portal – you might want to rethink that. You might want to think about: are there ways for us to make this an open access situation for people to be able to go in? Or are there… are you providing any kind of alternative methods for them to be able to schedule? Can they make a phone call, you know.

For your patients of color, in particular, I would say you really want to create digital campaigns and content that really speaks directly to the concerns of the Black community. You want to demystify that mythology around the vaccine. You want to let them know to find the vaccines for themselves. Where they can get it and their loved ones. What the costs are going to be associated. And if there are any side effects.

What you said Paul is absolutely 100 percent, too: is that, utilize the people who are already authorities in the community. That could be church people. It could be leaders in the community. Heck, it could even be people within your own health care system. So if you have either People of Color or people that are very well respected by the Black community, for example, that are on your team, utilize them. Let them be the ones to talk directly.

And make yourself open. Make yourself an organization that takes questions. Don’t just give the information. Let people find ways to provide feedback. If they’re afraid, they have questions. Answer them, and be truthful about it. Don’t don’t knock around the bush.

PG: So it sounds like a couple key takeaways from there: first is obviously the need to understand how scheduling works and making that accessible. That’s certainly something we’re working on with some of our clients, which is kind of a technical part of it.

But second: I also really like the idea that using authentic communication to the different communities shows that a hospital or health plan understands their needs.

I think the third part that – regardless of whether or not this is true – you know, people’s feelings and fears are valid. And if we don’t deal with them, then they’re really not going to do what we want. And I know how critical it is. I mean unfortunately, COVID does not discriminate against race or gender or socioeconomic status. And so in order to get our entire communities healthy, we’re going to have to examine some of those discriminations that we might have.

Final thoughts on how a hospital can really make sure that their outreach is authentic and meaningful so that they can continue on this important work?

CC: Sure, I think one thing I would say is don’t think of how you’re interacting with these different communities as just being about COVID. If this is your first time interacting with these communities and in different ways, that’s fantastic. But don’t let it be the last time. Let this be a an ongoing communication and relationship-building opportunity for you to really build your connections with audiences you may not have thought about before.

If this is a time to say, “Hey, we have a lot of non-English speaking people in our community and in our patient – in our existing patient body.” Are you developing the content? Are you creating website materials that really work for them? Have you been creating content for all these different types of audiences – whether it be aging or millennials or People of Color? Are you thinking about these different audiences? Are you telling their story? Are you making sure to connect with them in some way?

I think that this could really be the chance you know. If we could find a silver lining, if there’s ever to be a silver lining in COVID at all, this is an opportunity I think for us to really change the health care system.

PG: Yeah. Well, that’s a great note to end on. I agree. I think, you know, our work is so much about creating compelling experiences. And really this is like almost a wartime effort to try to get so many people vaccinated in such a short period of time.

So Chandra, thanks for your time. I always enjoy speaking with you, and especially on a topic that matters so much. And I hope this is helpful for the folks watching. And, of course, if there’s anything we can do to help you think about these kinds of issues, please don’t hesitate to reach out. Thanks again! This is Paul Griffiths and Chandra Craven signing off for now.

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Lysa Young-Bates

Lysa, a senior marketing manager, explores the business needs, consumer expectations, and industry challenges driving digital innovation in healthcare, life sciences, and financial services.

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