Most of the states have yet to plan their communication strategy for the vaccination campaign for COVID-19 due to issues with funding and staffing, as well as conflicting information from the federal government. However, we pulled together the available vaccine-related communication examples from Washington, North Dakota, Mississippi, and Minnesota.
The First Update
- On September 9, 2020, the Washington State Department of Health released “an update on COVID-19 vaccine distribution and planning progress” in the state.
- The update focuses on ensuring that the department is dedicated to verifying if the vaccine is safe and efficient by closely following the FDA approval process.
- It also provides information on prioritization, including which organizations will be deciding on who can be vaccinated first.
- While the release notes that there are many uncertainties around the delivery of the vaccine, the officials assure that they are working with multiple federal and local partners to plan for a smooth rollout.
- The department also informed that they would be posting weekly updates from then on.
The Second Update
- Since then, there was one update (on September 17), which was centered on prioritization and pilot project plans.
- The department informed that while the state was not selected for the federal pilot project, they would be closely monitoring the five states that are included.
- It also repeated that the state health officials would be monitoring the FDA approval process for potential vaccines to ensure that it is thorough and transparent.
- Additionally, the release includes a lot of information on the phased approach to distribution and possible priority groups that could be vaccinated first (essential workers, health care workers, and residents and workers of long-term facilities).
- The department emphasized that the vaccine cost would be covered by the federal government, though there might be some additional costs related to vaccine administration and an office visit. However, as stated by DOH, “we will work with other state agencies to understand and address barriers related to health insurance coverage, and to make the vaccine accessible at no-cost to people without health insurance.”
- Finally, the release described possible contents of vaccine kits, though it noted that it could only be decided after a specific vaccine was approved.
- While North Dakota has yet to release its communication strategy or make any significant communication efforts, it emphasized the need for introducing vaccination-related educational resources.
- Molly Howell, head of the North Dakota Department of Health’s immunization program, noted that only half of the Americans are willing to get vaccinated, which makes education crucial.
- Additionally, on August 10, the state department of health published a press release about North Dakota being selected for the vaccine planning pilot program.
- According to Molly Howell, the state was considered thanks to the strength of its immunization program. The federal bodies also look forward to working on a strategy for rolling out the vaccine among tribal communities.
- The release lists the topics to be addressed during the pilot program, which are “how a vaccine shipment gets to North Dakota, how it’s transported within the state, how it’s stored and inventoried, how it’s transported at the proper temperature so it doesn’t spoil and who administers it.”
- The article also touches on the prioritization guidelines, which are to be decided on the federal level.
- On August 3, Minnesota’s health officials gave a COVID-19-related update. It included two statements about the COVID-19 vaccine.
- They mentioned that at first, there won’t be enough vaccines for everyone, which is why the federal government provides guidance on prioritization.
- They also stated that Minnesota is one of the few states selected for the vaccine planning pilot program “due to the strength of its immunization program and a strong history of outreach to communities.”
- On September 16, state health leaders from Minnesota provided another update to address issues related to COVID-19. Vaccination was one of the topics.
- Kris Ehresmann, Minnesota Department of Health’s Director of Infectious Disease and Epidemiology, mentioned that the Center for Disease Control released a playbook for the vaccination campaign across the US states.
- Ehresmann emphasized that they were still too many unknowns around the vaccine and its distribution, but according to the playbook, the rollout is to have three phases. He also described who could get the vaccine in which phase.
- Additionally, he listed current problems with planning for the vaccination campaign, which are “complicated logistics plus uncertainty about availability and how many doses are needed.”
- There are no official releases about the vaccine by the state health department and no information on its communication strategy. However, local leaders made a few statements related to the topic.
- The state’s health officer, Dr. Thomas Dobbs, stated that the vaccine is likely to be ready in the first half of 2021.
- While he said that it is uncertain how trials and studies from different pharmaceutical companies will go, he praised the effort to try different approaches to developing and rolling out the vaccine simultaneously.
- He also emphasized that the safety of the potential vaccine hasn’t been compromised so far.
- On September 23, Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves gave a press conference, during which he assured that he will take the COVID-19 vaccine as soon as it’s available.
- The conference came after his conversations with the White House Coronavirus Task Force.
- According to him, the task force’s work on the vaccination process is thorough and trustworthy. At the same time, people who are against the vaccine often have political reasons instead of medical ones.
- He stressed that the FDA approval process is expedited, but outside of that, it is the same as for any other vaccine, so there are no questions about safety.
Unpreparedness for the Rollout
- According to our research, most of the state-level governments have yet to prepare COVID-19 vaccination communications.
- During the summer, the Center for Disease Control asked state health departments to draft vaccination plans by October 1, which was considered the earliest possible date for the vaccine to be released.
- However, local health departments have been underfunded for a long time, so they lack staff, tools, and money both to distribute the vaccines and educate about them.
- Additionally, health officials are confused about conflicting information from the federal government. They have yet to know how the vaccine will be delivered.
- For instance, state officials from North Carolina and California say that they don’t have enough federal guidance on the delivery of the vaccine to make campaign plans.
After reviewing multiple articles related to the distribution of the potential vaccine for COVID-19 in local and national news media, as well as healthcare media, we found no information on how states are communicating about the vaccine, outside of a few brief statements from health officials. Our next strategy was to scour through the news and press release sections of the state health departments’ websites. While we found that the state of Washington provides weekly updates on the progress with vaccination planning, no other state has a similar initiative. Even the five states that were selected for the COVID-19 vaccination pilot program haven’t made any organized communication or education efforts yet.
While, at this point, it is not possible to provide comprehensive case studies of state-level communication related to the COVID-19 vaccine, we provided examples of statements and releases from four states.