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Promoting COVID-19 Vaccine Confidence | Sandra E. Brooks, MD, MBA

Health DisparitiesHealth EquityHealth PolicyInclusion & Health EquityUncategorized
Feb 24, 2021

Sandra E. Brooks, MD, MBA

On Jan. 25, SGO released recommendations for ways that SGO members could promote COVID-19 vaccine confidence among vulnerable cancer populations, which included strategies at the institutional and community levels. Sandra E. Brooks, MD, MBA, Vice Chair of the SGO Diversity, Inclusion and Health Equity Committee, discussed the success of the REAL TALK campaign to promote confidence in the COVID-19 vaccine at Jefferson Health, where she is Senior Vice President, Chief Medical Officer, Thomas Jefferson University Hospitals, Center City Division in Philadelphia, PA.

While many people were overjoyed and hopeful with the Food and Drug Administration’s emergency approval of COVID-19 vaccines, Jefferson leadership knew administering the vaccine would have its challenges. Public health messaging in general has always been at a disadvantage in part due to underfunding. It is evidenced-based and cautious in nature, not splashy or sexy. We knew effective communication from trusted sources would be critical to drown out the noise and misinformation about the vaccine.

An initial staff survey conducted at Jefferson indicated that certain groups of employees expressed reluctance to get vaccinated, notably African American/Black and Latinx employees. We also learned very quickly that digital outreach, such as the intranet, websites and email communication to Jefferson staff would be insufficient to bridge the skepticism and logistical barriers. Vaccine skepticism comes as no surprise to those who have knowledge of past atrocities such as the Tuskegee syphilis experiment, and those who face ongoing bias and racism.

We launched the REAL TALK initiative, recognizing that misinformation and lack of confidence in the vaccine had the potential to derail efforts to immunize the very communities that are at highest risk. REAL TALK not only promotes vaccine confidence, but also allows us to emphasize the safety and stringent oversight of the vaccine and the diverse array of scientists and providers who strongly believe in the COVID-19 vaccines based on the evidence available. Many people rely on trusted relationships to make personal decisions. We knew that in order for REAL TALK to be effective, our outreach needed to be an interpersonal, two-way dialogue.

Our message surrounding the COVID vaccine is one of hope and care for our friends, coworkers, and employees. To date, we have spoken to hundreds of individuals through the REAL TALK campaign and have held numerous REAL TALK virtual town halls. We’ve also conducted dozens of trainings for a multiracial, multi ethnic, multi-disciplinary cohort of staff to serve as “trusted messengers” to engage in meaningful dialogue with their colleagues and peers. Since the launch of the REAL TALK campaign, the percentage of African American employees vaccinated has quadrupled, and our rates of vaccination of underrepresented minorities far exceed regional rates. In addition to making certain our strategies for vaccination appointments are equitable, we are also now expanding the REAL TALK campaign to the community through businesses, faith-based and nonprofit organizations. Our REAL TALK information is available to the community for download via our website here.

To paraphrase the Feb. 7 New York Times Op-Ed penned by 60 prominent African American members of the National Academy of Medicine, we encourage everyone to #CLAIM YOUR PLACE in line, in order to break the “stranglehold” that COVID-19 has had on our country.

You can read the entire NYT op-ed by clicking here.

Call for Stories: Your Solutions to Promoting COVID-19 Vaccine Confidence

SGO’s Diversity, Inclusion and Health Equity Committee would like to know if other SGO members have had success with strategies to promote vaccine confidence. Your examples might be considered for a column or article in an upcoming edition of SGO Issues. To share your story, contact Robyn Kurth, SGO Assistant Director of Communications, at robyn.kurth@sgo.org.

This column is sponsored by an unrestricted grant from GSK. Sponsorship excludes editorial input. Content developed by the SGO Diversity, Inclusion & Health Equity Committee.