Unique Educational and Persuasive Approaches from Other Countries
In a unique approach to persuade individuals to comply with recommended preventive measures to reduce the spread of COVID-19, the Quebec government partnered with local music artists to communicate its message. Music proved to be a resource that allowed for the rapid and massive dissemination of information to multiple audiences. Using evidence-based strategies, the careful manipulation of emotional and structural musical parameters allowed this powerful tool to capture attention, connect and communicate with at-risk populations, and increase favorable perceptions and behaviors.
A group of researchers in New Zealand has offered another unique approach to effectively disseminating science communication about COVID-19 – the use of comics. By presenting information using graphic narratives, the power of visuals, text, and storytelling offers an engaging and memorable format for reaching massive audiences. This public health tool is being effectively used during the COVID-19 pandemic to encourage behaviors that can help contain the spread of the virus.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), vaccine hesitancy is a major threat to global health. This threat is escalated by the rapid transmission of mis- and dis-information via social media platforms. With ongoing efforts to develop an effective vaccine against COVID-19, the uptake of such a vaccine is threatened by anti-vaccination messaging. Effective digital health strategies are needed to foster vaccine uptake and promote evidence-based health literacy. Suggestions include: leveraging social media platforms by trusted health care providers, promoting information accuracy by social media networks, framing messages appropriately, using narratives by celebrities, targeting parents and youth, and engaging the public by recruiting research participants.
To help reduce health threats, WHO promotes “health for all,” which requires the need for all communication to be understandable and accessible for all people. A group of researchers assessed WHO’s digital information about COVID-19 to determine if it is accessible for all regardless of technology, language, culture, or disability. What they found is that not all of the information is accessible according to Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.1. Robustness was the weakest principle whereas understandable had the highest compliance rate at 64%. This means that some people are disproportionately affected, and in this study, the elderly was the group most negatively affected.
Because the COVID-19 pandemic has created a complementary infodemic, primarily online, it is important to leverage health communication strategies to prevent the dissemination of misleading information. Researchers present a 12-item Infodemic Response Checklist as a comprehensive tool to overcome the challenges posed the infodemic:
- Provide more exposure for experts to provide authentic information
- Promote websites of public health organizations via search engines
- Verify the accounts of public health personnel on social media platforms
- Promote the posts of public health and medical professionals
- Monitor engagement on social media platforms to control disseminated messages
- Establish programs to help people cope with stress and mental health concerns
- Adopt an empathic style of communication to address health concerns
- Promote dialogue to understand people’s perceptions
- Share personal experiences on social media to combat misinformation
- Direct health communication strategies towards minority populations
- Develop educational material and share evidence-based science expeditiously
- Increase investment in research and development of health communication to understand strategic targeting
Group Communication Differences
Interestingly, researchers have found that politics guide the conversation about public health and prevention awareness related to COVID-19, particularly online. Not surprisingly, discussions of the pandemic have been politically polarized with right-leaning persons associated with aversion to promoting awareness of health and prevention of COVID-19 and left-leaning persons viewing the pandemic as a serious health threat. Partisan cues have guided beliefs and discussions, which have also affected the efficacy of health campaigns and public policies. Government leaders can utilize these findings to more effectively relay information to their constituents.
In an editorial published in Health Education & Behavior, scholars discuss how disturbing the response has been to the COVID-19 threat. They argue there needs to be more urgency from government leaders because the crisis is disproportionately killing the most vulnerable populations. They note that without a biomedical response to the virus, the most useful public health approaches to reduce the spread of COVID-19 are social and behavioral in nature. Implementing policies designed to target people’s behaviors are most effective when implemented early, which requires prompt and transparent communication. By addressing social inequities and multisector coordination, national and local governments can be better prepared to combat this pandemic.
With the rapid outbreak of COVID-19 in the United States, many adults at higher risk for COVID-19 have lacked critical knowledge about prevention. In a longitudinal study of knowledge, beliefs, behaviors, and preparedness, researchers noted that individuals’ perceptions and behaviors, particularly among minority groups (e.g., Black, poor), improved over time. However, disparities continued to exist in susceptibility and preparedness suggesting that public health messaging has not been effective in reaching vulnerable populations.
Finally, there still appears to be substantial differences in misinformation among racial groups with Black Americans exhibiting significantly higher levels of misinformation leading to greater health disparities. Additionally, religiosity and partisan social identity increased the likelihood of being misinformed. Knowing this can provide guidance for tailoring information messaging. This study further supports the need to develop targeted interventions for high-risk groups.