The new COVID vaccines are medical miracles. But are your patients ready to take them? Overcoming fears and building engagement will be key in convincing the diverse populations you serve to roll up their sleeves for the good of their own health, as well as the health of those in their community. Misinformation, myths, distrust, doubt, resistance and political polarization are only a few of the many challenges that need to be overcome on the road back to normal. We discussed them all.

Watch our Campfire Session, Vaccines, “COVID Brain,” and the Path Back to Care. Or read below for key takeaways from our webinar event!

On 12/17/2020, Stephen, Mike and I were joined by: 

  • Three-peat Campfire participant Lisa McCluskey, MBA, Vice President, Marketing Communications, CHI Memorial 
  • Newcomer, Rob Klein, Klein & Partners, health care marketing research and brand management specialist.

We discussed:

  • Vaccine rollout strategies
  • New research about the public’s perceptions of the vaccine
  • Engaging health care consumers who are fatigued and afraid 
  • What we do now determines what happens next 

Lisa’s COVID Vaccine Communication Playbook

Lisa told us what was happening at CHI Memorial, in Tennessee. As of the publishing of this blog, Tennessee is the number one COVID hotspot per capita in the country. She explained how her organization was coping and how it was able to care for patients (COVID and non-COVID) effectively even at 90 percent capacity.

Then she laid out the comprehensive vaccine communication plan CHI has in place, which we immediately dubbed “Lisa’s Vaccine Communication Playbook.” 

For those who didn’t take notes, highlights include:

  • Continuing to commit to being the trusted source of information about all things COVID.
  • Dispelling myths on an ongoing (24 hour a day, 7 day a week) basis.
  • Being comfortable in communicating in probabilities—letting people know this is what we know today and that may change tomorrow. 
  • Implementing a vaccine webpage to act as an information hub.
  • Producing COVID information and COVID vaccine videos for staff. 
  • Using staff questions to produce a “frequently asked questions” video for the general public featuring its vice president of medical affairs.
  • Keeping an ear to the ground and watching social media for chatter to determine what the public is thinking and wants to know. 
  • Sending email blasts, direct emails and texts to patients providing answers to frequently asked questions, as well as targeting patients on Facebook.
  • Posting FAQ videos in the comment section of local news outlet’s social media channels resulting in an ask to do a weekly live TV series.
  • Providing FAQ flyers to clinics and providers to share with patients.
  • Daily COVID updates for staff and physicians.
  • Providing an email where the public can ask questions, which are answered ASAP.
  • Using all channels to direct people back to the CHI Memorial COVID vaccine page.

Rob’s National Consumer Perception Research

Rob had just completed national research on the public’s perception of the COVID vaccine and we were lucky enough to be the first to hear his key findings. 

He started by telling us,

“This is not going to be an easy smooth road where everybody is lining up at once and wants to have a vaccine. We are going to have to work harder than we thought.”

Some of the data Rob shared included:

Only 39% of those surveyed said, “I’m very likely to get a vaccine.” 

That means 6 out of 10 American adults are not so sure that they are going to get the vaccine.

What’s most concerning about this is the demographic differences. These differences are important because they will impact messaging. A one-size-fits-all message is not going to work:

  • Men are significantly more likely than women to say that they are very likely to get a vaccine.
  • The likelihood to get a vaccine goes up with age. Gen-Z and millennials report that they are less likely to have a vaccine when it becomes available to them than baby boomers and the silent generation.
  • African American people are significantly less likely to get a vaccine. Only 19% said they were very likely to get the vaccine when it becomes available.
  • Many people indicated that they wanted to wait to see what happens to others. They are afraid of side effects.
  • People think the vaccine was rushed. The words “rushed” and “warp speed” are stuck in their brains.

“It is on us [health care] and the federal government to make sure everyone feels included and respected and that their concerns are addressed,” said Rob. “We have to reach people where they are and address their concerns. The empathy we have to show human beings has never been more important than right now.”

See what's working

Politics and the Vaccine

Rob told us the most disappointing results of his research indicate that there is a huge difference in the likelihood to get the vaccine based on political affiliation.

The lesson Rob says he hopes are taken away from this are:

“Words can heal and unite. Words can divide and hurt. There has been a division here that is not needed. We’re all in this together against this bug. The fact that the biggest significant difference between getting the vaccine and not is political affiliation—that shouldn’t have been.”

Research Finds that Primary Care Providers are the #1 Influencing Factor in Whether People Will Vaccinate or Not

  • Your physicians are the face and voice of your brand.
  • Give them talking points. 
  • Coach them as to how to talk with patients individually, knowing each patient has  different concerns and unique needs, depending on their sex, age or ethnicity.
  • People want to know what shot their primary care physician is getting.

What is COVID Brain?

A term coined by Rob to describe our patient’s mindset right now. People’s cognitive reasoning is affected by their fears and their anxiety level.  

Both Lisa and Rob addressed the fact that as people see others getting the vaccine and not suffering side effects they will most likely become more willing to roll their sleeves up for a vaccine as well.

Lisa explained that CHI has used their videos to: 

  1. Address side effects and dispel rumors that the vaccine was rushed or that it messes with a person’s genetic code. 
  2. Message in a manner that is conversational and understandable.

“The more we can put out there about how the vaccine works in layman’s language, the more it helps people to make the decision to vaccinate,” says Lisa. 

You can see CHI’s videos here.

What We Do Now Determines What Happens Next 

“We never stopped marketing and advertising,” says Lisa. “We always had an underpinning of safety messaging going as well.”

Lisa pointed out that the need continues to:

  • Support new providers. 
  • Support programs such as oncology and vascular services.
  • Make sure patients receive the services they need before they become too sick.

“Even though the vaccine is out there it will be late spring or early summer before it gets to the consumer,” says Lisa. “We still need to make sure that patients know how we are safely operating. So that safety underpinning will continue as we drive people to get their mammograms and encourage people to keep their doctor’s appointments.” 


  • Your patients are looking to you to be their trusted COVID and COVID vaccine authority.
  • Be that trusted authority by implementing some of the strategies covered in Lisa’s COVID Vaccination Playbook.
  • Your primary care physicians are your best messengers.
  • Research shows that this is not going to be an easy smooth road where everybody is lining up at once and wants to have a vaccine. We are going to have to work harder than we thought. 
  • We must reach people where they are and address their concerns. 
  • The empathy we have to show human beings has never been more important than right now.
  • What we do now will determine what comes next.

Join Us for Our Next Campfire Session

We host these Campfire Sessions to discuss the issues and opportunities facing health care marketers. These are webinars without boring slides, bullet points, and sales pitches—just great insights shared by and for our marketing colleagues. We hope you’ll join us around the virtual Campfire.


Mankato Recovery Campaign info