Unvaccinated for COVID-19 but Willing

There is a sizeable number of people who are unvaccinated for COVID-19 but are willing to get the shots. What can your organization do to help?

An August study from HHS ASPE found that of U.S. adults who are unvaccinated for COVID-19, 44% of them may be willing to receive it. Additionally, a recent study from the COVID States Project found 19% of people surveyed were unvaccinated but closely followed health recommendations and wore masks. Coupled together, these studies indicate there are individuals whose behaviors and attitudes suggest amenability to being vaccinated, clearly showing there are still steps to be taken to eradicate vaccination barriers.

As response and recovery to COVID-19 continue, read on for some tips and things to think about as you continue outreach to community members who are unvaccinated but willing:

Tip #1: Directly address the people choosing to “wait and see.”

In October 2020, the COVID Collaborative released a poll that indicated only 35% of U.S. adults would definitely receive the COVID vaccine upon its release – with 61% of individuals indicating they will “wait and see” before deciding to get vaccinated. A year later, with 78% of those in the U.S. ages 12+ having received at least one vaccination dose according to the CDC, and vaccine hesitancy rates steadily declining, some of the people who wanted to “wait and see” have since received the vaccine. But how can you communicate with those who are still contemplating vaccination?

  • Defer to the numbers: For those who have been waiting to see the impact of vaccination on others, the numbers are available in droves. For example, in August 2021, CDC data showed unvaccinated individuals were 6.1X more likely to test positive for COVID-19 and 11.3X more likely to die from it. As far as side effects are concerned, the CDC has also been transparently updating reported adverse events.
  • Share the vaccine development process: Widespread concern about the timeline of COVID-19 vaccine development has been rampant since the start of its distribution. Science News provides a summary of the key factors associated with this compressed development including decades of previous work, public willingness, and an influx of cash.
  • Listen to the questions and provide honest, factual answers: People who choose to “wait and see” may have continued questions about side effects, warnings, and efficacy of the vaccines. With information and research changing daily and emerging from a number of sources, it can be difficult and overwhelming to keep up. Sharing trusted resources such as this one from Yale Medicine allows individuals to have the information they need to make an informed decision all in one place.

For some, it will take more time to build trust in the vaccine. Every effort to address questions and concerns, however, are important steps towards building credibility in the eyes of the willing.

“We work with public health experts at the CDC, NIH, FDA, ASPR, and other federal organizations at CONSTANT, and more than anything we have seen how they prioritize the safety and well-being of the public and build safety precautions into the vaccine development process,” explains Ashley Slight, Director of Operations and Health Security Subject Matter Expert at CONSTANT. “Federal public health guidelines are built on reliable data and sometimes those who are skeptical just need to hear that they can trust the process. They need to hear that these agencies at the federal level are not corporations, but made up of public servants doing their best to protect their communities.”

Tip #2: Use a human approach when communicating with people who are unvaccinated but willing.

Incentives in many different shapes and sizes have been offered to encourage vaccination. While good intentioned, research has found that some of the largest incentives (e.g., vaccine lotteries) have not only been ineffective but also spark suspicion amongst the unvaccinated. But if potentially winning millions of dollars isn’t a motivator for vaccination, what is?

“Reliable information sources and data,” according to Kristen Baird, Health Security Practice Lead at CONSTANT. “It’s about connecting those individuals who are unvaccinated yet willing to trusted resources to gain information to prompt personal decision making. It’s not as easy as saying that individuals should just talk to their primary care providers since many individuals do not have one, so we need to create a reality where people can go to other trusted sources for information. This includes enhancing opportunities for both active and passive information consumption by the individual and ensuring they know where to access vaccines in their community to maximize vaccine uptake.”

In short, it boils down to trust and connection. Individuals want to receive messages from trusted sources in places and situations where they are comfortable. A few ways to reach them may include:

  • At home: Communities with low vaccination rates have seen success conducting house-to-house outreach with locals about the vaccine. However, it is critical that the staff and volunteers doing the outreach are accepted by the community, preferably from the community, and reflect the demographics and linguistics of the area.
  • In faith: Individuals trust their religious leaders, and as such, educating leaders and faith-based organizations through the provision of facts, information, and resources to share can encourage public promotion of the vaccine.
  • Through partnerships: Trusted community centers, leaders, and organizations can all play a role in vaccination. Getting to places where people congregate and having trusted messengers share vaccination information can not only help reach a wider audience but can also offer opportunities for people who are willing to sign up for or receive their vaccine depending on the structure of the event.

Reaching people who are unvaccinated but willing requires much more than a one-size-fits-all approach. In addition to the recommendations above, consider surveying your local population to see what community needs emerge that are unique to your jurisdiction.

Tip #3: Prepare for parents of soon-to-be eligible children becoming part of the “wait and see” group.

The COVID-19 vaccine is anticipated to be available for children ages 5-11 this week, with the program fully up and running by November 8th. And while some parents eagerly await this, others anticipate using the “wait and see” approach. A dashboard from KFF showed that in October 2021, 33% of parents surveyed will “wait and see” whether to have their children vaccinated. Such a sizable group raises concerns and implications for continued vaccination outreach, especially since some of the parents who will “wait and see” includes those who are themselves vaccinated.

So how can lessons learned from overall vaccination be applied in this next round of dispensing? A couple of things to think about when appealing to parents and their concerns may include:

  • Meet people where they are: For adults who may be used to getting seasonal flu vaccinations at a Walmart or CVS, the availability of COVID-19 vaccinations at multiple locations has been convenient. However, children typically receive vaccinations at the Pediatrician’s Office, and adults and children have developed a rapport with the provider. As such, it is critical that distribution and messaging aligns with this established relationship.
  • Point to the data: A common argument against vaccinating children is that children are less likely to get severely ill or die from the disease. While that sentiment aligns with available data, September 2021 marked the worst month for cases and deaths among children according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, peaking at the start of the school year. Creating messages that reflects the constantly changing circumstances yet still acknowledges all available data is critical to prompting honest conversations.

Similar to the adults who are unvaccinated but willing, it will take time for parents to build trust in the vaccine for their children. While there may not be the same initial demand for the vaccine for children ages 5-11 that there was for the adult population, efforts to reach this younger group early will be the building blocks for a longer-term effort to increase nation-wide vaccination.

What now?

Look for continued tips and updates from us on the COVID-19 front soon. If you need help with vaccine/booster planning or after action reporting, we’ve got you! Email us at: [email protected] to discuss how CONSTANT can help your organization or jurisdiction.