According to The New York Times, there have been close to 400,000 COVID-19 cases on U.S. college and university campuses since Dec. 11th, and it is unclear how many cases in those counties have been caused by these campuses as a direct result.
It comes as no surprise then that these institutions have been identified as a critical population that the CDC recommends proactive vaccine distribution as it becomes available.
Following our three pillars that guide forming communications around this unique challenge, here are some things to keep in mind as you develop your strategy in the higher education space:
1. THE MESSAGE
- Faculty members are essential workers, and you need to have high-level communications that reflect that.
- Explain how you are developing plans to work with state and local officials to effectively administer the vaccine.
- Produce a preliminary FAQ that can evolve as new information becomes available.
- Building trust begins with ensuring a transparent and science-based process. Part of your communications plan needs to be an education campaign that helps members of your university understand the vaccine development process clearly.
2. AUDIENCE SEGMENTATION
Every public institution is going to be required to follow and accept the efficacy of the vaccine. That does not mean that you won’t experience pushback or hesitancy from faculty, staff, and students. Be empathetic of differing perspectives and develop tailored communications for each audience.
A one-size-fits-all approach will not be sufficient for universities communicating across multiple campuses spanning different cities with varying socioeconomic statuses.
3. THE MESSENGER
The CDC suggests university presidents, athletic coaches, and other student and campus organization leaders be used as trusted sources that should be engaged to educate others about vaccine recommendations and be on hand to address hesitancy. If you are a research institution, we would also recommend leaning on scientific experts at your disposal who can directly combat misinformation and be available as a resource. In Duke University’s preliminary communications, they announced that Duke experts will be reviewing all available efficacy data to ensure science supports the vaccine’s use in order to instill confidence in those employees first in line to receive it.
You likely have an existing, dedicated COVID-19 site already. Consider whether this new content will be hosted there, or if the creation of an additional microsite will be required.
Consider what mediums will be most effective for simple and clear communications around the science of the vaccine. Infographics or short animation videos will be ideal for conveying these ideas.
The most vital part of this strategy will be developing or expanding a critical listening capability. If there is misinformation being circulated, you need to be able to flag and correct it in real-time. You’ve had other issues on campus this semester, from budget shortfalls to petitions and protests around your reopening plans, and the things you did to manage and track those issues should also apply here.
This real-time listening should also include listening to peer universities and benchmarking how they are navigating vaccine distribution on their campus.
In the forthcoming days, we will be hosting a webinar with leaders in the higher education space about how you can begin crafting a plan that prepares you for the hurdles you could face in the coming months.