Behavioral strategies to promote a national COVID-19 vaccine program

National efforts to develop a coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) vaccine at “warp speed” will likely yield a safe and effective vaccine by early 2021. However, this important milestone is only the first step in an equally important challenge: getting a majority of the U.S. public vaccinated.

Authors of a viewpoint article in the Journal of the American Medical Association share five strategies and implementation considerations, informed by insights from behavioral science, for a national COVID-19 vaccine promotion program. Alison M. Buttenheim, Ph.D., MBA, the Patricia Bleznak Silverstein and the Howard A. Silverstein Term Endowed Professorship in Global Women’s Health at the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing (Penn Nursing), is senior author of the article.

“The U.S. needs a national strategy for the promotion of COVID-19 vaccines that unites the urgency and commitment of Operation Warp Speed with innovative behavioral science and social marketing approaches to increase COVID-19 vaccine confidence and acceptance in diverse populations,” she says.

The recommended strategies are:

  • Make the vaccine free and easily accessible.
  • Make access to valued settings conditional on getting vaccinated.
  • Use public endorsements from trusted leaders to increase uptake.
  • Provide priority access to people who sign up to get vaccinated before vaccines are widely available.
  • Transform individual vaccination decisions into a public act.

The researchers also recommend the formation of a national entity similar to Operation Warp Speed to steer federal COVID-19 vaccine promotion efforts. “This entity should include scientists from multiple disciplines (epidemiology, vaccine science, behavioral science, social marketing, communications) as well as vaccine program delivery experts,” says Buttenheim. “The team should represent a spectrum of political views to depoliticize pandemic response.”

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