Building Trust to Address COVID-19 Vaccine Hesitancy, Especially in Vulnerable Populations

“Failure to achieve equitable access and gain acceptance of vaccines will represent a tragic public health failure.”
– Dr. Robert Breiman, Emory University faculty and Chief Science Officer for GHC3

Over a decade ago, RIWI developed its RDIT survey technology with the specific objective to address global pandemic surveillance. We have since applied this technology to help address many global issues, including peace building in the Middle East with the World Bank, supporting migrants and refugees with the United Nations World Food Programme, monitoring China’s economic growth in real-time, and many others.

So it is particularly rewarding that we at RIWI are tapping into our global health security roots, having signed an agreement with the Global Health Crisis Coordination Center (“GHC3”) to develop an innovative information equity program. The program ensures that COVID-19 vaccine information is accurate, trusted, context-specific, and equally accessible for all communities and demographics in the United States.

The initiative is funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (“CDC”) in partnership with the Task Force for Global Health.

The primary goal of the program is to develop tailored messages so that everyone, regardless of race, ethnicity, age or current intentions or concerns, will be armed with everything they need to make informed decisions about immunization.

The risks of this pandemic are not the same for everyone. Those disadvantaged by poverty, stigma and discrimination, or underlying medical conditions are at disproportionate risk for COVID-associated illness, hospitalization, and death. However, many of the same people have no faith in the medical establishment and may not accept immunization unless its safety and efficacy are appropriately communicated.

To help address this challenge, RIWI will be gathering inclusive data from over 60,000 diverse Americans to better understand which regions and which communities remain resistant to COVID-19 vaccines. RIWI will then help guide the development of targeted messages that will foster agile community engagement efforts aimed at reducing vaccine hesitancy.

“A ‘one-size fits all’ approach for communication will not ensure that those who are at disproportionate risk of COVID will accept and seek immunization against COVID-19.” – Dr. Robert Breiman, Chief Science Officer for GHC3

Most critically, community engagement and the development of tailored messaging must be approached through the complex lenses of racial, historical, and cultural past experiences. For this reason, the program will follow a systematic, multi-stage process to identify and communicate with hesitant but susceptible-to-risk populations.

RIWI’s partner researchers include teams at Emory University, Johns Hopkins University, the National Association of Community Health Centers, the National Association of County and City Health Officials, the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials, and the Association of Immunization Managers.

Please feel free to connect with us if you are interested in learning more about this project, or in collaborating on global initiatives to help address the “last mile/ last inch” effort to ensure maximum vaccine uptake and global herd immunity.

By Eric Meerkamper and Neil Seeman