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From faith leaders to office workers: 5 ways we can all be COVID vaccine champions

Yesterday, we heard from a nurse at one of Victoria’s mass vaccination clinics who said she’d administered just one vaccine in an eight-hour shift. She said vaccine hesitancy was a factor in people not turning up to be vaccinated.

So how do we handle people’s questions or concerns about the COVID-19 vaccines, to address vaccine hesitancy? How do we do this and boost the vaccine rollout, beyond the almost 3.2 million doses delivered in Australia to date?

GPs and practice nurses are ideally placed to answer specific questions about people’s personal health and vaccine eligibility. However, not everyone has a regular GP or wants to get vaccinated at a GP clinic. GPs are also being swamped with questions to address in limited time.

That’s why it’s essential to encourage other people in the community to be vaccine advocates.

Why is this a good idea?

People’s willingness to have a vaccine is influenced by social norms — what they think others are doing, and what they think trusted or influential people want them to do.

We have been regularly delivering vaccine communication training seminars, based on communication and behavioural science, to people in all kinds of roles. These include cultural, faith and First Nations community leaders; health-care support staff, such as medical receptionists; and office and industrial workers.

These people don’t need all the answers. But if they have a role where people know and trust them, and might come to them with vaccine-related questions, these people can provide reputable information to increase vaccine acceptance or even help people book in to get the vaccine.

Here are a few strategies for these vaccine champions to help build vaccine confidence in their organisations or communities.

1. Share your story

When everyone knows a few people who have been vaccinated, vaccination starts to become the norm. Countries that had high hesitancy at the start of the COVID-19 vaccine rollout have generally seen hesitancy go down as vaccination rates go up.

If you’ve decided to get vaccinated, or if you’ve already received your vaccine, talk about your experience. Share your reasons for deciding to get vaccinated. For instance, what are the good things you think will come with vaccination? Post photos on social media (but avoid scary needles) to normalise the experience.

We know from our current research many people are concerned about side-effects. Talk about how you manage side-effects, if you get them, or if you needed some time off work to give people a sense of what to expect.

Read more: Why telling stories could be a more powerful way of convincing some people to take a COVID vaccine than just the facts

2. Work together with other vaccine advocates

Find other people in your organisation who are willing to share their vaccination stories and work with them to brainstorm vaccine promotion strategies. For example, you can discuss what’s worked to promote flu vaccines in the past.

If you work in an office, make sure there are vaccine champions representing all levels of your organisation, not just managers. If you’re working in a diverse community, try to find and highlight vaccine champions of different genders, disability status and cultural background.

Read more: From Elvis to Dolly, celebrity endorsements might be the key to countering vaccine hesitancy

3. Help people find answers

It can be difficult for people to find answers to their questions about the vaccines and the vaccine rollout process.

We know people with lower levels of health literacy often have poorer health and say they are less likely to get vaccinated.

Amid the whirlwind of information the pandemic has unleashed, people with lower levels of education and those who speak languages other than English are often left behind. These groups are also less likely to plan to get vaccinated.

So if you feel confident finding reliable information, you can offer to help other people find answers. Understanding risk is hard; visual elements, such as pictograms, may help. Another option is to organise to bring in an expert to your work or place of worship for a live question and answer session.

You can also help people understand where to go to find out if they’re eligible for the vaccine, or how to book an appointment.

Read more: How can governments communicate with multicultural Australians about COVID vaccines? It's not as simple as having a poster in their language

4. Address vaccine misinformation

Misinformation and conspiracy theories flourish in times of uncertainty, like the pandemic.

But before you jump in to correct every myth you hear someone share, it’s a good idea to consider if this myth is being shared widely, or if it is affecting behaviour. If it is, there are some strategies you can use to address misinformation without getting into a debate.

First, try and talk privately. Ask questions and acknowledge the emotions driving a person’s belief in misinformation. Offer to look for the truth together. And before you share information yourself, make sure it’s reliable: “verify before you amplify”.

Read more: Religious concerns over vaccine production methods needn't be an obstacle to immunisation

5. Encourage vaccination

Not everyone will be comfortable or able to take a leadership role in building vaccine confidence. But even everyday conversations with friends and family can have an impact. So can recommending vaccination.

A recommendation to vaccinate from a health-care professional is particularly powerful. Encouraging people in your network to vaccinate is also likely to have an influence. But this needs to be handled with respect and not done in a coercive or domineering way.

A simple phrase like “I hope you will get vaccinated” can make a big difference.

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