Vaccines: Do you Know Any Sixth-Graders?

Why you should practice your communications on a kid.

Situation: As shipments of COVID-19 vaccines roll out across the country and healthcare workers start rolling up their sleeves to receive the shot we’ve hoped and prayed for all year, there’s never been a more important time for hospitals to keep lines of communication open with the public. Providers have an opportunity and responsibility to be a visible source of truth in this critical phase of the pandemic. And the media can be a powerful ally for reaching the masses. Here are a few tips for engaging with reporters right now.

Quick Counsel:

  • Be comfortable getting technical. Mainstream media is now avidly covering topics tackled only by select trade journals just one year ago – such as vaccine storage and transport requirements, the differences between vaccines from various pharmaceutical companies and the particulars of double-blind studies. Be prepared to answer questions about the technical aspects of your vaccine supply and offer to show reporters the specialized freezers and other equipment you’re using to ensure a safe and timely rollout. Ideally, tap a clinical leader as your spokesperson for these interviews – a CMO, infectious disease specialist, pharmacy lead or infection prevention professional.
  • Make the technical more comfortable. Even though vaccine science is now a household topic, keep in mind we’re still communicating highly specialized scientific information with a lay audience. In general, reporters try to write for a sixth-grade reading level, so make sure your clinical spokespeople have received message training to keep things understandable. If you happen to have a sixth-grader handy, practice your messaging with them. If you can 1) keep their attention and 2) get them to explain the message back to you, you’ll know you’re right on target.
  • Set clear expectations. Without a doubt, this is a moment to celebrate. We’re ending an extremely difficult year with a glimmer of hope, and we want our patients to know that real help is on the way. But it’s important to be clear about what this joyous milestone does – and doesn’t – mean for our communities’ safety over the next several months. Don’t miss the opportunity to remind your audience about the ongoing importance of masking and social distancing. Help them set realistic expectations for when life might return to “normal.”
  • Start planning now for second-dose communication. We know we’ll need to convince our patients to show up for the vaccine not once but twice in 2021. So when working with news outlets about this first round of vaccines, talk to them about their important role in communicating that second dose later in the year. Reach out to your local editors and news directors to set a tickler on their editorial calendars for the spring. And do be sure to thank the  newsroom for their hard work this year.
Teresa Hicks
thicks@jarrardinc.com