Registered nurse Sophie Woodbury, left, poses for a photo with state epidemiologist Dr. Angela Dunn, and fellow registered nurses Monte Roberts, Amanda Vicchrilli, William Brunt and Julie Nelson at LDS Hospital in Salt Lake city on on Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2020. Woodbury, Roberts, Vicchrilli and Burnt were vaccinated for COVID-19 by Nelson.

Jeffrey D. Allred, KSL

What can officials do to build trust in the COVID-19 vaccine? Messaging matters, Qualtrics study finds

By Lauren Bennett, | Posted - Jan. 20, 2021 at 1:47 p.m.

SALT LAKE CITY — A recent PEW study found that 60% of Americans felt confident getting a COVID-19 vaccine, with another 40% saying they would not get the vaccine if it was available to them. As vaccination ramps up in Utah, with those age 70 and older eligible to get the shot starting this week, how can public officials help raise public trust in the shot?

A Qualtrics study of more than 4,000 American adults found that when public figures support a vaccine, it raises the likelihood a person is to get it themselves. About 42% of respondents said they would be more likely to vaccinate if a doctor recommended it, while 34% said they would likely get the shot if a trusted family member or leading health expert recommended it.

But it's not only health experts and loved ones who change minds. About 19% of respondents said if a religious leader recommended taking the vaccine, they would be more likely to get the shot as well.

Several religious figures have done just that. Top leaders for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints were vaccinated this week and encouraged members to do the same. Chief Rabbi Mirvis of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth in the UK counseled earlier this month that it is a "religious imperative" to get vaccinated.

Similarly, 17% of respondents said if Democratic and Republican leaders recommended it, they would get the shot too, with 16% saying they would take it if a local business owner recommended it. In an effort to encourage Americans on both sides of the aisle to do the same when their turn comes, former Vice President Mike Pence and President Joe Biden both received their shots on camera.

Lack of confidence in the distribution method

While some feel hesitant about the vaccine itself, others find the rollout plans in their area are less than effective.

About 61% of respondents said they have little to no confidence that their state has a proper system in place to effectively distribute a COVID-19 vaccine, according to Qualtrics' research. In Utah, vaccine distribution is being handled at a county level with each health department implementing a different system to get shots in people's arms. Across many counties, there have been technical difficulties as health officials work to schedule an overwhelming amount of residents with a limited number of doses available.

So far the state is sending out about 33,000 doses weekly, with plans to increase that number in the coming months.

"The conversations that we've had with elected officials and government leadership, the biggest concern is around trusting the vaccine and how do we roll this out in a way that is going to increase trust and confidence in the vaccine," Chelsie Bright, the global industry leader of the public sector at Qualtrics, said.

More COVID-19 info

Other states have turned to tech companies, like Qualtrics, to handle their distribution. The Provo-based tech company's vaccine solution has since been implemented in the state of Missouri, several counties in California, a county in Illinois, a county in Michigan, and the second-largest tribal nation in Oklahoma.

"One of the things that we're seeing with a number of actually local health departments that we're partnering with, is they're really focusing in on diversity and inclusion elements of the vaccine distribution," Bright said. "And that goes both in terms of minority representation, individuals living below the poverty level, even people in rural areas to make sure that we're tracking and providing means of engagement."

Like several systems in Utah, the solution allows individuals to sign up for a notification system that will let them know when they are eligible to receive their first dose and also reminds them to sign up for a second dose when the time comes.

The research also found a disparity in education level and the likelihood of a person taking the vaccine, with 47% of respondents with some high school education or less planning to get vaccinated compared with 84% with a graduate or professional degree.

"We can help provide that information back to our local government partners, and let them know how to position that," said Bright.

The research also found that some demographics are more likely to respond to emotional messaging surrounding the vaccine, than others. For example, when Black or Hispanic participants were shown an emotional message about losing a close friend to COVID-19, their intent to vaccinate rose by 17% percentage points, compared to zero effect on non-Hispanic white respondents.

"Governments should avoid broad campaigns that deliver the same message to everyone," researchers concluded in the report. "Instead, communication should be carefully tailored to specific audiences based on what type of message most resonates."

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