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6 Ways to Educate Rural Communities About the COVID-19 Vaccines

In the five months since launching our historic COVID-19 Vaccine Education Initiative in partnership with the COVID Collaborative, we have made significant progress. Initially, about 30% of Americans said they would get vaccinated as soon as one was available to them, and about 20% said they would not agree to be vaccinated under any circumstances, leaving about 50% that were hesitant. This 50% is where we have focused our efforts, alongside more than 300 cross-sector partners.

As of June, the percentage of vaccine-hesitant Americans is now under 20%. But with the Delta variant causing surging infections, hospitalizations, and deaths in rural communities (communities that have a concurrently low rate of vaccination), there is increased urgency to reach those populations with the facts about the vaccines.

As the insights lead for the Ad Council’s initiative, my role is to use our research to inform recommendations about how to effectively reach our intended audiences. Based on our extensive and ongoing research, here are the six best ways to maximize impact when educating rural Americans about the COVID-19 vaccines.

1. Focus on outreach to primary care physicians.

Empower them with fact-based information to discuss the vaccines with their patients and build opportunities to increase touchpoints through public forums.

2. Acknowledge questions and concerns related to safety and effectiveness.

This is the ticket to entry, and it’s the guiding principle of the Ad Council’s work: It’s natural to have questions about the vaccines, just as it’s natural to have questions about any health decision you make with your family and loved ones. Leading with empathy is critical.

3. Empower people to do their own research.

In doing so, provide access to resources and websites with factual information, like

4. Leverage personal testimonies from relatable, everyday people.

Especially those who have experienced COVID-19 and can help frame the risk between getting sick and getting vaccinated.

5. Avoid tactics that could be perceived as trying to bribe people to get vaccinated.

Our research indicates that these tactics may backfire.

6. Lean into language that emphasizes vaccination is a personal choice.

Framing vaccination as a personal choice to be thoughtfully made after assessing the risks of COVID-19 empowers people to consider the facts, which is the first step toward making an informed choice to be vaccinated.