The State Vaccine Communication Strategy Works To Include Community Partners

Jan 26, 2021

As the state tries to vaccinate Hawaii residents a key task will be communicating with the public to combat misinformation and include community partners.

Only 44% of Hawaii residents would be willing to take the COVID-19 vaccine according to a report from the University of Hawaii’s Public Policy Center. 

That’s far off from 70%-- what’s needed for herd immunity.

Rupali Limaye, a vaccination expert at Johns Hopkins University said people are usually vaccine hesitant for four reasons.

One, they’re concerned about the ingredients in the vaccine. Two, they’re concerned about the number of vaccines administered at the same time -- think of a newborn getting shots for the first time. Three they don’t perceive the disease to be a risk. And four being adverse effects. 

However, she says COVID-19 has added to that.

“There's also a bit of a concern that the process was politicized and it was really conducted for political gain, so maybe not as neutral as people would like to be with regards to the vaccine development process,” Limaye said.

“The other piece we're very much struggling with now is the huge amount of misinformation, there was misinformation prior. But I think it has exponentially increased during the pandemic and continues to go up.”

She said the best way to reach people is through a diverse mix of communication channels-- not just television ads, but through community members like pastors at churches.

That’s what CJ Johnson, a COVID community outreach and public health education specialist with the state department of health is trying to do.

“A lot of organizations were already out there, from community leaders to church groups, to local ground level nonprofits, were already out there doing a tremendous amount of work, and had a lot of goodwill and had a lot of credibility in their communities,” he said.

“What became really clear to us was our best course of action going forward would be to make sure that we were developing communication networks, and trust systems with the folks that are already doing the work.”

His focus is on Native Hawaiian, Pacific Islander and Filipino populations who were hardest hit during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Naalehu Anthony is with COVID-Pau a group created earlier in the pandemic to fill a gap in the state’s health communication. Now the collection of public, private and nonprofit organizations is working on the more commercial aspects of communication.

“We're taking cues from some of the ways in which the interaction between the storytelling that worked, utilizing folks who are leaders in our community,” Anthony said.

COVID Pau’s focus will be on urging the community to engage with medical professionals and trusted websites for information.

The state paid the company, Olomana Loomis $200,000 to also assist with communication. That will look like websites, public service announcements and social media.

However Alan Tang, Olomana Loomis CEO thought one of the most important pieces is the research being conducted.

“This is the deepest research that I've ever seen in a state, which allowed us to actually look deeper into islands like Kauai,” he said.

“Kauai is notorious for people not responding to surveys, but we have a critical mass sampling. So we actually understand Kauai pretty well.”

With help from community groups they were able to reach about 4,000 residents-- to ask about beyond just messaging, but general questions about COVID and the vaccine.

The answers are expected in the coming days.