What can pharmacists say to increase acceptance of the COVID-19 vaccine? The answer is especially important in rural areas or if many of those hesitant about being immunized are rural Americans, young Republicans, young Black Americans, or young women, according to the results of a new poll.
The national poll, entitled “The Language of Vaccine Acceptance,” identifies the language that was shown to be most effective in reaching all Americans. The survey was conducted by the de Beaumont Foundation and pollster Frank Luntz in partnership with the American Public Health Association, the National Collaborative for Health Equity, and Resolve to Save Lives, an Initiative of Vital Strategies.
“The divides along racial, urban-rural, political, and generational lines are significant when it comes to vaccine acceptance,” Luntz said, “but we’ve learned that there are certain words and phrases that will work for all audiences.”
The poll found that 60% of Americans said they were either “absolutely certain” or would “probably” get the vaccine if they could now. In fact, 41% of respondents advise that they are “absolutely certain” they will get the vaccine. Least likely to say they were “absolutely certain” about being vaccinated, however, were Americans in rural/farm communities (26%), Republicans aged 18 to 49 years (27%), Black Americans aged 18 to 49 years (28%), and women aged 18 to 49 years (29%).
The biggest concerns, according to about one-third of all respondents (33%), were either long-term side effects or short-term side effects. Pharmacists will find it useful that the top three statements about side effects deemed most reassuring were:
• “The likelihood of experiencing a severe side effect is less than 0.5%,”
• Mild side effects "are normal signs that their body is building protection," and
• “Most side effects should go away in a few days.”
On the positive side, most respondents said they looked to a vaccine for “a return to normal,” “safety,” and “immunity.”
A majority, 62%, of those answering the poll said the following statement was most convincing to them. That “getting vaccinated will help keep you, your family, your community, the economy, and your country safe and healthy.” That was more persuasive than “taking the vaccine is the right thing to do for yourself, for your family, your community, the economy, and the country” (38%).
“Words can save lives,” explained Brian C. Castrucci, DrPH, president and chief executive officer of the de Beaumont Foundation. “Our ability to boost confidence in COVID-19 vaccines will depend largely on the language, the messengers, and methods we use to communicate to Americans that the vaccine will help keep them and their families safe and healthy.”
Researchers conducting the poll caution against moralizing and lecturing Americans when it comes to the importance of vaccine acceptance.
Overall, they said that family is the most powerful motivator for vaccine acceptance with significantly more Americans saying they would be most willing to take the vaccine for their family as opposed to “your country,” “the economy,” “your community,” or “your friends.”
Here are statements found to be most convincing for vaccination acceptance, according to the poll:
• “At 95 percent efficacy, this vaccine is extraordinarily effective at protecting you from the virus”
• “Vaccines will help bring this pandemic to an end”
• "Getting vaccinated will help keep you, your family, your community, and your country healthy and safe”
“There is no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to vaccine communication,” added Georges C. Benjamin, MD, executive director of the American Public Health Association. “These poll findings will help us create a roadmap for reaching people who are worried about the COVID-19 vaccine, including communities of color, who are most affected by the pandemic.”
The researchers urge pharmacists and other healthcare professionals to:
• Tailor messages for a specific audience.
• Explain the benefits of getting the vaccine, not just the consequences of not taking it.
• Focus on the need to return to normal and reopen the economy.
• Talk about the people behind the vaccine. Refer to the scientists, the health and medical experts, and the researchers, not the science, health, and pharmaceutical companies.
• Avoid judgmental language when talking about or to people who are worried about taking a vaccine. Acknowledge their concern or skepticism and offer to answer their questions.
The poll determined that Americans in rural/farm communities have much less confidence in the safety of the vaccine—with 39% responding “a little safe” or “not at all safe” versus 38% responding “very safe” or “extremely safe”—than other groups. It also points to a strong generational divide, especially among Black Americans, about what outcomes matter most. “Returning to normal” is the desired outcome among Black Americans younger than age 50 years but saving lives was the highest priority for those older than age 50 years.
Young Republicans also strongly identified with “return to normal,” as a goal, followed by reopening the economy, but were less convinced about arguments about personal health and safety.
For women—including young women less likely to be vaccinated—"damage from lockdowns: and the “potential for family/friends to become ill” were both convincing.
The nationwide survey was conducted December 21-22, 2020, by pollster Frank Luntz, with 1,400 registered voters (+3% margin of error), including an oversample of 300 Black Americans and 300 Latinx Americans. A representative sample of the nation’s demographics, including age, gender, race, education, and income, were polled on the preferred words, sentences, phrases, and attributes that would encourage them to consider taking a COVID-19 vaccine.
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