The role of communication in Australia's COVID-19 vaccine rollout
As countries race to vaccinate residents against COVID-19, strategic and effective communication will play a critical role in ensuring effective, equitable vaccine dissemination.
In February 2021, Australia started rolling out the COVID-19 Vaccination Program, offering initial doses of the vaccines to aged-care and disability-care residents, and frontline healthcare workers. There are five key areas where communications and digital engagement can help public agencies, healthcare providers, pharmacies, employers, community organisations and all public health stakeholders administer vaccine delivery and stop the spread of misinformation and conspiracy theories:
- Public information and engagement.
- Enrolment and registration.
- Appointment coordination.
- Monitoring vaccine effectiveness.
- Distribution logistics.
In particular, digital communication is essential to the success of the rollout, particularly through the promotion of vaccine effectiveness and reminding patients to receive their second dose.
Provide accurate vaccine information to the public
Public health stakeholders need to provide clear, accurate information about vaccination effectiveness and availability. Public information must be broadly distributed and able to reach specific population segments across a wide variety of communications media and languages, whether the intended audience has access to TV, internet, a smartphone or landline.
Additionally, this information must reach people who are eligible to receive a vaccination and dispel false information that could negatively influence vaccine use. Due to the fact that there is varying trust among the public in messages and messengers related to COVID-19, public information should be personalised for the intended audience.
Broadly used communication channels like email, SMS, voice and WhatsApp are critical avenues to reaching and engaging people in order to provide the most up-to-date vaccine information. If healthcare organisations have a directory of patients they need to contact quickly, these channels can enable quick communications — whether that’s their mobile device or computer.
It’s anticipated that there will be many questions from the public about the vaccine’s safety and availability. With this in mind, informational hotlines can also serve a crucial role in providing up-to-date answers to questions.
Help people to sign up for a vaccine appointment
Demand, locally and globally, will outstrip supply for the vaccine. During the initial rollout and into scaled vaccine delivery, health professionals need scalable solutions to enable people to sign up for a vaccine and then prioritise these requests based on eligibility — such as health personnel, essential workers and high-risk populations. As vaccine supply increases, communications must then scale to the size of the entire city, state and country populations, while ensuring that distribution is managed equitably.
SMS bots, webchat and interactive voice responses (IVRs) can enable people to input relevant information that will allow organisations to determine eligibility for vaccination at each phase of the vaccine rollout. Organisations can then integrate this information into their system of record and tag vaccine requests according to priority and vaccine availability. This way, organisations can ensure that essential workers and at-risk populations receive access quickly, and then automatically notify people when they are eligible to receive the vaccine.
Coordinate vaccine appointments and send reminders
Vaccinating people for COVID-19 presents three coincident challenges. First — the scale of administration. Automating scheduling through mobile messaging and IVRs can reduce administrative burdens for staff.
Second — most COVID-19 approved vaccines require two doses, 21 or 28 days apart, in order to provide maximum protection against the virus. For this reason, appointment reminders are essential to ensure that people follow up for their second inoculation. SMS and voice notifications can help remind patients when, where and how to reach their appointments.
Third — high-volume appointments risk crowding outside, and within, medical facilities. Creating virtual waiting rooms using video, voice and SMS can help ensure that people remain socially distant until their designated appointment, keeping themselves and others at lower risk of exposure to COVID-19.
Track vaccine effectiveness and patient health
As vaccines are deployed across populations, it will be important to ensure vaccine efficacy and monitor for any adverse health outcomes among vaccinated individuals. Using a bot or outbound IVR, organisations can follow up with patients through automated SMS and voice surveys after someone receives a vaccination in order to track and analyse patient response. These surveys can be integrated into many different systems of record, including REDCap, to assess patient outcomes from individual to population scales.
In this new world of uncertainty, effective and strategic communication is key to ensuring the health and safety of all Australians in the fight against COVID-19. Done right, Australia’s government and healthcare sector can help keep the Australian public up to date with relevant information and reduce the spread of misinformation and conspiracy theories.
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