Tailoring Messages to Specific Population Needs
Targeting specific populations during the pandemic offers health communicators a more tailored approach for informing and persuading individuals about recommended COVID-19 behaviors. For example, scientists already know that COVID-19 disproportionately affects African American communities with high infection and mortality rates. A group of researchers then utilized community-based participatory research by partnering with African American churches, a trusted community source, to conduct a needs assessment, distribute emergency preparedness strategies, and disseminate COVID-19 information electronically. It was determined that through this partnership, information reached 12,000 church members to help educate and prepare under-resourced communities. This targeted approach likely reached more people and provided information from credible sources to meet the needs of the community than would have been possible without the partnership.
Another group of researchers studied college students to determine sources of COVID-19 information of college students and how trust in those sources influences their willingness to engage in recommended behaviors, particularly vaccine acceptance. The researchers learned that college students typically use, and trust, credible sources for their information. To be most effective, messages about vaccines should come from scientists, and not pharmaceutical companies. When college students trusted the source of information, they were more likely to accept the use of vaccines. It is also important to note that students who trusted social media as a source of information were less likely to accept the use of COVID-19 vaccines. Health authorities and scientists need to promote vaccines to increase uptake while also dispelling misinformation circulating on social media.
Finally, this week, international studies of COVID-19 communication have resulted in a quantitative risk assessment tool that measures individual and regional risk (http://www.covira.info); recommendations for strict initiatives to control the infodemic of misinformation on social media; and a call for interdisciplinary, multi-method research approaches to study scientific knowledge and improve sociocultural communication strategies.