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Building COVID-19 Vaccine Advocacy for Healthcare Organizations from the Inside-Out

and and on December 16, 2020
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Millions of health care providers will begin receiving the first batch of potentially lifesaving COVID-19 vaccines in the coming weeks. The biggest obstacle our country faces isn’t access to freezer space or distribution – it’s convincing caregivers and then the public to get the vaccine.

A survey of Americans as late as November showed that less than 40% would be comfortable being the first to get the vaccine[1], and that number varies significantly depending on the community[2]. Inside our organizations, we’re unfortunately not much further along. When asked if they would be voluntarily vaccinated against COVID-19, nurses’ responses were almost evenly split, with approximately one-third (34%) saying yes, one-third (36%) saying no, and one-third (31%) saying they were unsure[3].

It’s no surprise that nearly half (44%) of nurses say they aren’t comfortable having conversations with their patients about COVID-19 vaccines. Failing to build internal advocacy within healthcare organizations means we’ll likely fail to change public opinion.

CREATING POWERFUL ADVOCATES

We know from engaging thousands of people in strategy and change activation that while people tolerate the directives of their leaders, they ultimately act on their own conclusions. We also know that people don’t react well to facts, fears or force. Making these conclusions personal and emotional using stories they can relate to, allows everyone to discover them individually and ultimately determines whether a strategy is successful.

Here are three critical ingredients to getting authentic buy-in from within your organization.

1) Define a shared future with “big picture” clarity

Whether you’re getting the word out across your organization through emails, town halls, videos, or huddles, make sure you help people understand “why we are changing,” “what’s changing,” and “how I can change”—the “big picture.” Why do we need everyone’s commitment? What are the relevant data, science, or beliefs? What is our plan? How will we define success? What can you as an individual do to support this effort?

Visualizing the world without the vaccine (the long-term consequences of COVID) is a powerful way to grab people’s attention (“why”). The “what” and “how” will require a bottom-up story that takes people on a journey while specifically addressing the major points of resistance. The goal is not to preach or sell but to present all the relevant information in a meaningful and intentional way, letting people come to their own conclusions about the right decision. Enabling people to process the information on their own along with two-way conversations with others in the organization is critical to helping them come to their own conclusions.

2) Build a movement with social empathy

Humans follow other humans, their own beliefs, and well-articulated plans. Note here: humans first. Communicate using empathy and leverage other people they can relate to. More than ever, leading vaccine adoption requires humble, fearless, familiar people to step forward first. Try a video or roundtable discussions with small groups as part of your messaging. The goal is not to preach but to organize and recruit regional, local, and department-based influencers. A person’s decision to take the vaccine will be influenced by the thought leaders they see and interact with.

Waterfall these approaches to specific departments and maintain a constant feed of information and evidence of adoption. Also, don’t forget the value of visuals to help tell stories. They can help bridge that intellectual and emotional gap.

3) Sustain with authentic commitment and incentives

Immunization resistance is a complex issue, predicated on some people’s distrust of science, their suspicion of government, and their fear of flawed antidotes. A mandate doesn’t guarantee success. Therefore, acceleration is only the beginning. Keeping the momentum in this environment is just as hard. Once you’ve seen your caregivers step forward to lead the way, honor them with celebrations and visibly support them. Thousands more need to know you care and that you support them as we enter an uncertain future. An added incentive for early adopters should be considered; of course, any reward for immunization should not punish those who cannot be vaccinated for specific medical reasons.

As the war on COVID-19 enters its final chapter, the length of this final battle of vaccine adoption is dependent on health systems getting their medical staff in the game. The education and change management strategies deployed lay the foundation for the public.

We must never forget that people tolerate the directives of their leaders but ultimately draw their own conclusions. The goal is never to preach, but to instead provide them with insights and personal examples that help them make the most informed decisions.

[1] https://www.pewresearch.org/science/2020/12/03/intent-to-get-a-covid-19-vaccine-rises-to-60-as-confidence-in-research-and-development-process-increases/
[2] https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/covid-vaccine-skepticism-trust/2020/12/09/e0342ec6-3650-11eb-a997-1f4c53d2a747_story.html
[3] https://www.nursingworld.org/news/news-releases/2020/new-survey-of-13k-u.s.-nurses-findings-indicate-urgent-need-to-educate-nurses-about-covid-19-vaccines/

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