10 Ways to Prevent Misinformation Spread and Promote COVID-19 Vaccination


What we’ve learned from 15 years of running vaccination campaigns

The Covid-19 vaccine is the most important public health campaign in decades. We must get this right. From early childhood vaccines in Washington, Colorado, and Nevada to HPV vaccination in Arizona and Texas, we’ve been working in the immunization world for a long time.

In that time, we’ve messaged across just about every medium and tactical tool. These are the lessons we’ve learned.

Keep an eye on the prize – vaccines save more lives

Yes, we never back down from a fight, but choosing the right fight is important. The ultimate goal is to get shots in arms. Arguing on Facebook or shouting on Twitter won’t get that done. Your target audience is the folks who are undecided about vaccines. Reach them with empathy, facts, and persuasive arguments. 

Have a plan

There’re endless possibilities in reaching people. Have a plan for how you’re going to communicate with them when they are ready to hear your message. 

We always start with a landscape analysis to figure out the habits and desires of people we’re trying to reach. You will have to make tough decision on where to communicate because time and money aren’t endless. When you have a plan, those decision are easier and more effective. 

But, be flexible

You must be flexible in your messaging and tactics. Disinformation is incredibly adaptable, and misinformation is super sticky. You must be ready to pivot to meet new challenges because this will be a long campaign. 

Speak to their heart, not their head

People make decisions based on emotions, not facts. Do not overwhelm your audience with stats. How is this vaccine going to change their lives? What will it enable them to do or experience after the vaccine? 

You should be communicating now

The struggle for hearts and minds (and health) has begun. Coordinated COVID-19 vaccine disinformation campaigns spun up almost immediately. This coordinated resistance shouldn’t come as a surprise. Anti-vaccine groups have been sharing misinformation and multiplying for decades. 

Our messaging has the effect of inoculating people against misinformation. Every person protected from misinformation has a three-fold effect. 

  1. They are more likely to get the vaccine. 
  2. They are one less node in the misinformation pipeline 
  3. They are more likely to spread pro-vaccination messages.

Once you’ve landed on messaging that sticks, pump up your frequency. Between throttled reach on social channels and short attention spans, you are going to have to send more messages than you ever have before. As First Draft noted, data deficits create spaces for misinformation to fill. We must not allow that to happen.

If you haven’t started communicating, now is the time. 

Choose your messengers wisely

For some people, hearing about the vaccine from the CDC or their doctor is enough. What we’ve found, though, is most people need a push from their friends, family, co-workers, or religious group. 

It’s all about trust. These in-group people have already earned more trust than institutions will ever gain. Developing a toolkit and framework, as we did in Washington, can go far in facilitating these peer-to-peer interactions. 

Having a known or trusted messenger works by bypassing our natural skepticism when receiving messages from an unknown person. 

Narratives are important

Stories move people. The goal isn’t to “fact” people to death – it won’t convince them to get vaccinated. Misinformation is nearly always narrative-driven – i.e., “My sister-in-law Karen’s cousin was damaged by the vaccine.” 

Narratives, personal stories and testimonials allow people to believe in something better. They are the universal key in opening minds. Plus, a narrative combined with an in-group messenger is a nearly unbeatable spreader of good vaccine mojo. 

Don’t fall into the debunking trap

If all you do is bust myths, what you end up doing is talking about anti-vaccine messages and never get into pro-vaccine messages. 

You can respond but consider the points above about being flexible and inoculating the undecided. You don’t have to repeat the misinformation to protect people from it. 

Get a full tutorial on our approach to managing myth-busting here >>

  1. Visit Community Health Center Learning Library: https://chclearning.org/
  2. Once you register for an account and log in, navigate to the Communications topic.
  3. Click on the COM Talks: Crisis Communications tab.
  4. Scroll down for the Myth Busting Strategies presentation content.

Empathy is difficult

You’re going to encounter messages from people that range from extreme anti-vaccination to pro-vaccine cheerleaders. The key is to identify the middle. Some people have concerns or questions about the vaccine. Some are trolls in sheep clothing trying to draw you into a confrontation. 

For the reachable middle, you must show up with empathy. Hear them out. Remember your narratives. Use facts to back your stories, not to lead the conversation. You are there to be the guide. 

We created an empathy model for talking to peers about vaccines for the Washington nonprofit WithinReach

It would help if you had a team

Get ready for a bit of bad news. Anti-vaccine groups are well-coordinated and funded. Please do not allow anyone to downplay them. Take it seriously. 

Now some good news. There are more people to accept vaccines than actively anti-vaccine people. While you can’t be everywhere all the time, and there’s also burnout to consider. You don’t have to do this yourself. Build a team that can carry messages. Like we said before, this will be a long campaign. 

A team will help you identify and also respond to misinformation. You can control the trolls on your channels. Still, when it comes to spreading the word elsewhere, all you can do is post your messages and then use your team to juice the algorithm with likes and comments so your content is seen first and most often. 

Need help bringing your vaccine communications project to life?

Since our founding in 2010, BC/DC Ideas has been on the frontlines of vaccine communication, helping parents, providers and patients understand the importance of immunization through social media and communications campaigns.

Vaccine messages, campaigns and communication are some of our favorite challenges. Our team brings 12 years of experience in deploying successful communications campaigns. Our agency has over a decade of experience increasing vaccination rates, from building better messages to build trust in vaccines to hyper-targeted paid media campaigns.

Vaccines need smart, savvy strategies to be successful. We need thoughtful campaigns to address our community’s fears and concerns while building trust for medicine, science, and public health leaders. BC/DC Ideas is ready to support your organization with pro-vaccine projects