8 hospital execs share their vaccine campaign's most effective message

After encouraging patients to get vaccinated against COVID-19 for more than six months, eight hospital executives share the message they think has been most effective during their vaccination campaign.

Editor's note: Responses have been lightly edited for clarity and style.

Paul Wood. Vice President and Chief Communications Officer at UPMC (Pittsburgh). Throughout the pandemic, UPMC held 30 press briefings to ensure that our communities had timely, accurate information about COVID-19, vaccines and treatments like monoclonal antibodies, which serves to establish UPMC as the "source of truth" in the many regions we serve. With the vaccine rollout, UPMC has focused in every communications channel on a message of safety, accessibility for all, and trust – with our clinicians, other employees and patients explaining the benefits of this miracle of modern science. 

Shiva Bidar-Sielaff. Chief Diversity Officer at UW Health (Madison, Wis.). In the days before any vaccines received an emergency use authorization, UW Health was working on plans to reach our local Latinx community. We prioritized Latinx individuals within those early eligible populations. We crafted straight-forward, direct messages about the safety and the effectiveness of the vaccines. But we knew from the beginning that was not going to be enough.

Vaccines need to be offered in clinics and locations that are known and trusted within the community, not just our larger hospitals and clinics. Early on, we operationalized a smaller clinic serving many of our Latinx patients to administer the vaccine. We worked with community groups such as the Latino Health Council of Dane County, the Wisconsin Latino Chamber of Commerce and Centro Hispano of Dane County to schedule vaccination days at this well-known and trusted clinic for the Latinx community. Just as important as location is having a trusted messenger. In addition to our partnerships with Latinx community groups, we worked with one of UW Health’s Latinx primary care physicians, Dr. Patricia Téllez-Girón, to deliver multimedia messages to the community in Spanish.

This multi-layered approach to vaccine messaging and outreach has produced positive results. Dane County has one of the nation’s highest rates of vaccination in the Latinx community, in part because we grounded our campaign firmly in the community.

Nick Ragone. Executive Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer at Ascension (St. Louis). At Ascension, we have encouraged our patients and our communities to protect their families and ours by getting the COVID-19 vaccine when it became available to them. Our most powerful and effective messaging has focused on the safety of our working environments, the safety of our patient care, the safety of each other and the safety of our communities — protecting your family and ours.

Our marketing and communications team leveraged the trusted voices and testimonials of our vaccinated associates and patients to spread the word about their experience and their personal circumstances through news articles, social media and word-of-mouth marketing to appeal to others who might be hesitating. In addition, we emphasized the need to consult with their physician at Ascension sites of care near them. 

Ashley O’Brien. Clinical Communications Director at Intermountain Healthcare (Salt Lake City). Intermountain Healthcare’s most influential messaging on COVID-19 vaccines was around emphasizing that our system and caregivers are here for our patients and communities, that we’ve been involved at a state and national level in vaccine rollout programs, and that we’re making it convenient to get vaccinated and easy to access information about it. We support informed decisions about this preventive behavior for patients and families, and emphasize that vaccines are safe, effective and provide protection from disease and peace of mind.

Kary McIlwain. Chief Marketing and Communications Officer at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago. Our most effective message was to ask faculty and staff to lead the way and be the example for the community. In addition, we had peers assigned to address concerns for work groups like environmental services, security and food services through face-to-face Q&A sessions. We have FAQs and fact sheets in English and Spanish as well to make certain we were inclusive in our approach. 

Suzanne Bharati Hendery. Chief Marketing and Customer Officer at Renown Health (Reno, Nev.). We delivered many messages of hope, determination and safety education through Renown’s vaccination campaign. However the message that resonated with our community is that we cared so much about their health and safety, that we didn’t leave it to the public health officials alone. 

We stepped up and demonstrated our commitment. Hundreds of our care providers donned purple Renown scrubs and volunteered thousands of hours to personally provide 80,000 vaccinations to our community members in a drive-thru vaccine clinic that operated for months. This allowed us to vaccinate twice as many people in half the time. That is what will be remembered.

Jennifer Gilkie. Vice President of Communications & Marketing at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Health (Lebanon, N.H.). The COVID-19 pandemic has been such an isolating time for so many of us. More than anything, we wanted our community to understand that vaccines offer hope — hope for a return to normalcy, time spent with loved ones, no fear of spreading illness and a better future. Our "There's Hope Inside" vaccine campaign has been wonderfully effective at promoting the idea that hope is not lost; that through embracing science, research and medicine, we can and will be able to safely return to the lives we loved, and hopefully with a new appreciation not only for all the work that is going into ending this pandemic, but for all the small but meaningful things we once took for granted.

Melinda Karp. Senior Vice President of Consumer Partnership at Commonwealth Care Alliance (Boston). For Commonwealth Care Alliance, there wasn't one message that carried the day, but rather a focus on providing as much education as possible to our members who are dually eligible for Medicare and Medicaid and have significant medical, behavioral health and social needs. CCA members are high-risk for COVID-19 complications, not only because of their health needs but because many face other unique challenges—such as being homebound, having language barriers and lacking a strong social support system.

Through phone calls, telehealth visits, person-to-person outreach and digital content, we shared the facts and resources our members needed to understand the importance of the COVID-19 vaccine to their overall wellbeing. Due to the complexity of CCA members’ needs, CCA ensured all resources were made accessible by eliminating language barriers and using multiple channels and outreach methods to proactively engage and problem-solve with every member. This messaging approach worked: 25,056 CCA members, or about 60 percent, have been fully vaccinated.


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