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The moment has arrived.

With the UK granting emergency use authorization and Europe and the US FDA close behind, doses of COVID vaccines will be rolling through healthcare providers’ doors in the blink of an eye. And, with healthcare workers at or near the top of the priority list, providers must lay the groundwork now with the media, the public and employees about how they will distribute the vaccine(s) once they arrive and address safety concerns that arise.

Here are the three communications imperatives providers need to consider today. We’ll be picking each of these apart with specific actions over the next couple of weeks:

Get the talk right internally: Your staff needs information just as much as the general public does, both because they can advocate for a vaccine in the community and because they will be asking many of the same questions. If doctors, nurses and other caregivers aren’t comfortable getting vaccinated, we can’t expect patients to line up for immunizations. Now is the time to develop a plan for centralizing all information related to a vaccine, initiating regular updates and equipping leaders at all levels to cascade information to their teams.

Be the voice of authority in your community: Patients will look to their local healthcare providers for reassurance. With vaccines being rolled out in phases, each phase represents a milestone to remind patients, the media and your community about the safety, efficacy and urgency of getting vaccinated. This is work that will unfold over the coming months, but now is the time to identify spokespeople who have the right expertise and empathetic communications skills and who reflect the patient population they’ll be working with.

Prepare for the pitfalls: There are, unfortunately, a host of issues – real and perceived – that could crop up during the vaccine rollout: Security and cold chain logistics, anti-vaxxer activity, helping underserved communities and people of color feel more comfortable receiving a vaccine, to name just a few. In addition, thanks to the (Warp!) speed with which these vaccines were developed, the public and media will be watching closely for any sign of danger. It won’t be a surprise to see any side effects magnified and attempts to link deaths to receipt of a vaccine dose. Providers don’t necessarily need canned responses to every possible issue, but they do need to prepare a framework for how to talk about anything that might come up.

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