To promote the vaccine, lead with values <><><><><><><><><><><><><><>

As we come to the end of an incredibly difficult year that tested us in many ways, I am pleasantly surprised by how hopeful I feel. Despite all of our challenges, 2021 will bring us a new administration in the White House, including a Vice President who breaks multiple glass ceilings. The new year will also bring millions of doses of vaccine to combat the pandemic. But there is a new test for our nation, as we have to not only figure out equitable distribution of the vaccine, but build excitement among those who will receive it.

There are many reasons people might hesitate. On top of an avalanche of anti-vaccination mis-information, there is a warranted mistrust of the Trump administration which is taking credit for the vaccine. And of course Black and Indigenous Americans have had more than enough abuses at the hands of our medical establishments to be wary of any offerings targeted at them.

Photograph of a girl in motion. She is wearing a red dress and red mask, with red pom-poms in her brown hair.

Despite these concerns, there is more and more evidence that these vaccines are safe and effective. They are built on established science; human trials are researching efficacy far more than safety. The process was sped up by lowering bureaucratic barriers and running some parallel processes, leaving the science as thorough as ever. Ultimately, an effective vaccine is our best hope for 2021—including any of the inperson, group activities we have all been missing so much.

In light of all of this, it should be a pretty straightforward communications effort to get people ready, willing and, frankly, excited to receive the vaccine. And folks are trying to get the word out and build up anticipation for this important next step. But unfortunately, too many are making the same mistakes we have made combatting other misinformation: Myth busting.

There is a lot of good messaging info about the pandemic in general, but let us be the first to remind you that myth-busting does not work. It’s not just unproductive, it is counterproductive. It reinforces (or even introduces!) the very myths you are trying to bust.

Instead of repeating and reinforcing people’s doubts, talk about what is true factually but also what is true to your values. In other words, lean into why you care so much about getting the truth out in the first place! And never forget your audience: why do you think other people will care? What truth are they hungry for?

With this in mind, I crafted my own narrative for talking to my community about the coming vaccines:

“How moving to see the first folks get the COVID-19 vaccine shot. I am thinking about how those grandmas and grandpas will get to hug their grandkids soon and my heart melts.”

“I am so grateful that so many scientists worked day and night to make this happen, and to the government workers who helped by speeding up the usual bureaucratic processes.”

“We are finally seeing the light at the end of the tunnel for this pandemic.”

“I can’t wait for that poke in the arm! Want to stand 6 feet away from me in line?”

I even “tested” this narrative by sharing a version of it on Facebook, and it got a ton of engagement and traction. People are hungry for positive, hopeful messages about the future. We can fill that need with the truth and nothing but the truth. No need to repeat anything false.

What’s your truth for 2021? How will you tell it?

Image of girl in red dress and red mask playing by Helena Lopes via Pexels.