7 hospitals, health systems share how they're combatting COVID-19 vaccine misinformation

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As the nation persists in its effort to achieve widespread COVID-19 immunity through vaccination, hospitals and health systems have taken careful steps to combat COVID-19 misinformation and conspiracy theories.

Below, seven communication and marketing executives from hospitals and health systems throughout the country share what their organizations have done to address COVID-19 vaccine misinformation.

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

Amanda Todorovich, senior director of digital marketing and health content, Cleveland Clinic: Our organization strongly supports widespread vaccination and believes it’s key to controlling this pandemic. That means it is also important to us to combat COVID-19 vaccine misinformation. Even before the first vaccine was approved for emergency use, our content team was working to reassure the public that vaccination is backed by science, safe and effective. 

After all, people have many concerns. Were the vaccines rushed? Can they give you COVID? Do they alter your DNA? Or make women infertile? These questions are to be expected. But we see it as our duty to turn to our infectious disease experts and provide trusted answers. We provide accurate information to combat popular vaccine myths on all of our channels — our website, consumer blog, social media, even in our weekly email from our president and CEO to our patients. 

From FAQs to social media posts to a HOPE campaign, our content team strives to break down the scientific process into terms that all can understand in hopes that they’ll realize the importance of getting vaccinated for a healthier future. 

Nick Ragone, executive vice president and chief marketing officer, Ascension (St. Louis): Ascension is proactively reaching out to our associates, our patients and the public as a transparent and trusted resource on COVID-19 vaccination across our communities. We are using broad awareness marketing to reach the community, including our social media accounts as news channels for timely updates, and conducting individual outreach through email to get ahead of any questions. Most importantly, we are putting forward our amazing clinical leaders as trusted voices in the community so that those we serve are hearing from the healthcare providers they know for the most current vaccine information. 

Ashley O’Brien, marketing and communications director, Intermountain Healthcare (Salt Lake City): At Intermountain Healthcare, leaders in clinical, operational, strategic and communications roles coordinate and share the latest information about COVID-19 vaccines to healthcare professionals, patients and community members. We seek out updates from the CDC, FDA, World Health Organization and state and local health departments to understand the most current information regarding clinical guidance, safety and effectiveness, supply and prioritization and access. 

We share these sourced updates directly with our populations. Intermountain also features first-hand accounts from our vaccine experts and other healthcare professionals through video, photography or written articles, to show their experiences with vaccines and why they support vaccination. These stories from local, real people drive relatability, trust and interest in vaccines, which motivates our audiences to seek out information from reliable sources rather than believe or perpetuate misinformation.

Suzanne Bharati Hendery, chief marketing and customer officer, Renown Health (Reno, Nev.): At Renown Health, we combat COVID-19 vaccine misinformation by asking our clinicians to call out any inaccurate information immediately as false, and redirect the communications to focus on the facts. Our CEO, Tony Slonim, MD, who is also a physician with a doctorate in public health holds regular town hall virtual meetings for employees, the media and the general public and encourages them to ask questions. We provide timely, accurate and credible information from experts to combat any misinformation.

Jennifer Gilkie, vice president of communications and marketing, Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center (Lebanon, N.H.): At Dartmouth-Hitchcock Health, we recognize that false and misleading information is one of the main drivers of COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy. Given the state is distributing the actual vaccinations to patients, we are focused on communicating accurate, fact-based content for our patients who consider us their trusted source for health care information as well as advocating for them for what they need to stay healthy in their communities.

We’re utilizing all channels — paid, earned, owned and social media — to combat misinformation, creating content like a "Vaccine Myths" page on our website, "The Cure" podcast, direct-to-patient communications through regular patient emails, updates on our patient portal and Facebook Live videos, which allow patients an opportunity to interact with our providers, asking questions in real time. 

We're also keeping an eye on national trends around vaccine perception, which show that the hesitancy gap is shrinking as more people are vaccinated, but we are also acutely aware that we need to reach populations that are not understanding the importance of vaccination, hesitant because of misinformation, or living in parts of our rural service area that make access very challenging. So that means continually refining our messaging strategies to meet these needs and building our patients’ comfort level in accepting and embracing vaccines as the most critical thing they can do to play their part in ending the pandemic, and we’re committed to continuing this critical work until they are all safely across the finish line.

Catherine S. Harrell, chief marketing officer, Franciscan Missionaries of Our Lady Health System (Baton Rouge, La.): Combatting COVID-19 vaccine misinformation is work that’s never finished. Earning trust through transparency and candor has served us well beginning first with our own workforce and medical staff. We’ve relied on established two-way channels to know concerns and then address them directly in various ways: written, video, live town halls, online resources and in-person rounding. 

We’ve actually focused some Q&A sessions to a unique perspective such as exclusively physicians or employers. Whether audiences are internal or external, we have consistently used the same physician spokespersons throughout the past year. These clinical experts who base their counsel on science and peer-reviewed literature are now recognized and respected sources of truth for our team members, the larger community, and state. 

Regular virtual press availability with our spokespersons has also helped us quickly address misinformation or rumors and set realistic expectations for the community. While these various approaches are good, we recognize grassroots can actually make a big impact and we always invite our team members and physicians to be advocates with friends and family about the vaccine and the continued precautions that will help bring an end to this pandemic. We’re in it to end it.

Phil Bridges, executive director of integrated communications, UNC Health (Morrisville, N.C.): At UNC Health, we’ve worked diligently to provide thoroughly vetted information on COVID-19 vaccines. We understood that nationally, misinformation was rampant and trust was at an all-time low, and believed we could be a trusted source of information. We began with a cross-functional effort from our communications and marketing group targeting our own healthcare system coworkers since they were the first eligible group. We developed a thorough plan to reach these front-line workers, providing information via email and on our intranet with a tremendous amount of original messaging in line with that of the CDC, National Institutes of Health and North Carolina HHS. We continue to employ both written materials and a significant amount of video and a vigorous use of social media platforms.

The communications and marketing departments, along with our agency partner, ReviveHealth, developed a separate website, YourShot.org, to serve as a central hub for vaccine-related resources, both for our coworkers and the general public. The site includes information on vaccine safety and side effects along with the science behind how these vaccines were developed in record time. We include information on vaccine supply and eligibility. We hold daily Webex meetings to share information with our established workstreams, ensuring each part of the department is aware of the day’s focus / events. 

The continued development and updating of frequently asked questions is key to keeping everyone on the same page and speaking with one voice. UNC Health’s existing consumer-facing website Health Talk serves as an outlet for COVID and vaccine-related information as well.

Throughout the pandemic, UNC Health has purposefully been extremely visible in its effort to combat COVID-19 from the development of new testing protocols and treatments to clinical care and vaccine clinical trials. With the release of the first two vaccines, UNC Health has also been a leading distributor of shots in North Carolina.

To reach both co-workers and the general public, we have made our many subject matter experts available to local, regional and national media, garnering a significant share of media coverage in North Carolina. We make these experts available to the media on extremely short notice given the fast-moving changes everyone is dealing with during the pandemic. We believe our high transparency in responding to all inquiries has aided in our reputation as a trusted source of information.

UNC Health took advantage of a high profile event, Super Bowl LV, to reach a large number of people throughout North Carolina, especially the vaccine hesitant, underserved populations to spread the message of vaccine safety and effectiveness. A 30-second, regional PSA featuring a North Carolina football legend and Super Bowl champion Torry Holt was created. In addition to airing in-game on CBS, it was also placed with Spanish subtitles on ESPN Deportes. The PSA was amplified greatly via social media channels and with the posting of a longer interview session with Torry discussing vaccines here.

 

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