PARIS — A threshold has been crossed this week as the first vaccinations have been administered, in the UK and Russia, with announcements of others to follow in additional countries in the coming days and weeks.

It all sets the stage for the biggest vaccination campaign in world history. But even if the obvious logistical hurdles can be overcome, there may be an even trickier task: getting people to agree to be vaccinated.

Even if the obvious logistical hurdles can be overcome, there may be an even trickier task: getting people to agree to be vaccinated.

Recent opinion polls in many countries show a surprising high number of people who say they'll refuse vaccination, as citizen mistrust in both government and science runs deeper than ever. So authorities around the world are already looking for ways to convince people to take the shot.

Listen first: Ermeline Gosselin and Guillaume de Walque, a pair of Belgian strategic communications experts, recently wrote in the Brussels-based daily Le Soir, that governments and health authorities need to be as "empathetic, humble and transparent" as possible in order to convince people to get vaccinated.

  • This means listening and understanding the fears expressed by citizens concerning possible secondary effects and their lack of trust in the vaccine's efficacy, as well as sending "clear messages" to the population instead of using medical data which can be confusing and not really striking for some.

  • Authorities should also adapt their speech and their language depending on their targeted audience, as well as use social media for more quirky, humorous posts.

  • It is "by shaking up old communication habits that authorities will be able to build trust and convince the greatest number of the real benefits of vaccination," the communication experts write.

The first vaccinations have been administered, in the UK and Russia — Photo: Str/NurPhoto via ZUMA Press

Vaccine as civic duty: Some argue that authorities should highlight the fact that vaccination doesn't only represent a personal benefit, but is also a necessary civic act.

  • A September 2020 study by the German Leibniz Institute for Economic Research found that for a vaccine to be successful, "politicians should not present the decision to vaccinate as a simple risk assessment, but also appeal to social responsibility."

  • Vaccination doesn't only protect the immunized person, but also the people around him or her. According to the study, even if people were to decide against it out of "caution", they could still be convinced via social responsibility.

Vaccination doesn't only protect the immunized person, but also the people around him or her.

Influencers, young and old: "People are more likely to get the vaccine if they see someone they trust having it," writes Stuart Mills, a fellow in Behavioural Science at the London School of Economics in British daily inews. For the expert, choosing the appropriate "messengers" will be crucial to encourage uptake of the vaccine and some are already acting accordingly.

  • U.S. President-elect Joe Biden has said he will take the COVID-19 vaccine publicly to promote public confidence in its safety and effectiveness, joining the last three US Presidents — Barack Obama, George W Bush and Bill Clinton — who have vowed to take the vaccine in front of cameras. UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson could do the same, his press secretary suggested, but not before those in greater need.

  • The National Health Service in the UK is working on a plan to enlist celebrities and influencers on social media, people who are "known and loved," in a vaccination campaign, The Guardian reports. While no name has been confirmed yet, England football Marcus Rashford has been touted as a possible spokesperson, following his popular campaign to end child food poverty. Stuart Mills also suggests involving national figures such as the Royal Family and personalities in various entertainment sectors "to appeal to differing demographics and interests."

The COMETE unit in France specialized in prevention — Photo: BMPM

Stickers & shame: French are among the most skeptical, as almost half of the population say they will refuse to get vaccinated according to recent opinion polls. According to Rustam Romaniuc and Angela Sutan, researchers in behavioral economics, writing in Le Monde, authorities could rely on "psychological and cultural factors that proved their worth when it comes to encouraging civic conduct," such as the "opt-out" option or peer pressure.

  • The researchers compare the vaccination campaign to organ donation: studies have shown that countries where the consent rates concerning organ donation are higher are the ones implementing the "opt-out" option (everybody is a donor unless decided otherwise).

  • They also suggest that authorities, instead of making vaccination compulsory, could draw inspiration from blood donation campaigns or campaigns encouraging citizens to vote, by offering badges, stickers or bracelets. Simple and cheap tools but that can be effective.

  • "The greater the number of people displaying a sticker or a bracelet, the more those who don't have one will feel the need to do it as well, out of imitation or the desire to belong to a larger group," the researchers argue, referring to the stickers displayed during the 2020 U.S. elections.

Old fashioned PR: Business Insider Deutschland says half of Germans are unsure of whether they want the shot, and the most important reason they give is "the concern that the vaccines have not yet been adequately tested."

The most important reason they give is "the concern that the vaccines have not yet been adequately tested."

  • According to Business Insider, Germany's Ministry of Health is preparing to roll out a major PR campaign to encourage people to get their shots. In a draft paper seen by the outlet, the govt wrote: "We need a ‘Yes we can' for the Corona vaccination strategy," presenting shots as an "optimistic appeal that ushers in a new, hopeful era in the containment of the pandemic and calls for people to be vaccinated".

  • "We shouldn't just call for vaccinations ("I will be vaccinated!")," says the draft "But must also accompany the information and opinion-forming process at an early stage."

  • The campaign will use the slogan "#SleevesHigh" and feature photos of people who have had the jab, including doctors, 80-somethings, workers. According to the draft, all the images will include some text pointing readers to a website to get more information or to get advice at a dedicated hotline.


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