Toolkit offers COVID-19 vaccine story ideas, survey findings on vaccine attitudes

About Tara Haelle

Tara Haelle (@TaraHaelle) is AHCJ's medical studies core topic leader, guiding journalists through the jargon-filled shorthand of science and research and enabling them to translate the evidence into accurate information.

One of the video resources available at the NAB-RJI Vaccine Education Toolkit.

Image & video: NAB-RJI Vaccine Education ToolkitOne of the video resources available at the NAB-RJI Vaccine Education Toolkit.

Journalists reporting on the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine have a new tool to guide their coverage: a Vaccine Education Toolkit that includes survey results on audience attitudes and needs, B-roll and multimedia, webinars, recommended experts and tips on reaching specific audiences. This resource may be a helpful complement to the AHCJ’s extensive resources on reporting about the pandemic.

The bilingual website was developed by three groups: the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB), the Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute (RJI) and the National Association of Chain Drug Stores (NACDS). RJI is a part of the Missouri School of Journalism and the NACDS is an industry trade group representing traditional drug stores, supermarkets and mass merchants with pharmacies.

The toolkit’s first section is NAB-RJI Research Insights, which come from a research survey funded by RJI, designed to learn what people want to know about the vaccine and how they prefer to get news about it. Perhaps the most valuable part of this section is a list of two dozen stories that most interest the public and their level of interest in each.

Some interesting findings:

  • Local news — TV, print, and radio — are still viewed as the most reliable sources for vaccine information.
  • The biggest questions people have about the vaccine focus on safety and effectiveness.
  • The biggest motivator for getting a vaccine is getting back to “a normal life,” followed by concerns about the safety of themselves or a loved one.
  • African Americans worry most about vaccine side effects.
  • Americans prefer to get coverage that focuses on “just the facts,” a finding I found particularly interesting and not terribly helpful without more context on how different people perceive “just the facts” reporting.
  • A list of who Americans consider trusted messengers of information about the vaccine is led by their own doctor or nurse, closely followed by federal health agencies such as the CDC, U.S. Health and Human Services and the National Institutes of Health.

Here’s an overview of what you can expect from the other materials on the site:

  • Reaching Key Audiences: links to research findings, policy papers and other resources related to specific demographic groups, primarily based on race or ethnicity.
  • Webinars: only one webinar is on the site so far — focusing on how to use the research from the toolkit — but more are planned.
  • B-Roll and Multimedia: the National Association of Chain Drug Stores (NACDS) provides 1 minute of B-roll here, and there are three 2-minute videos on what vaccine stories the public wants, who the public trusts on vaccines, and other public opinions on the vaccines. Several infographics provide similar information about the findings.
  • Experts: the list of experts includes former U.S. Surgeon General David Satcher, the FDA media relations director, people from NACDS (industry), the Satcher Health Leadership Institute, the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and multiple researchers and pharmacists. Refreshingly, of the 13 experts listed so far, only three are white and the vast majority are Black, which is particularly helpful for reporting on attitudes of Black Americans and the importance of equitable distribution and access of the vaccine. Other experts are included in AHCJ’s tip sheet for reporting on the COVID-19 vaccine.
  • Data Tracking: provides links to outside sites on vaccine distribution and COVID-19 stats.

In general, I recommend caution in over relying on surveys about American attitudes toward the vaccine since learning what others think about the vaccine influences people’s own decisions. This can cut both ways: learning that most people are uneasy about a vaccine can decrease people’s confidence in the vaccine or intent to get it. Learning that a majority do want the vaccine has the opposite effect. Journalists strive for balance and need to be conscientious about not advocating for or against a vaccine. Still, they need to consider how the way they frame reporting can impact public health, particularly if it could undermine health.

That doesn’t mean that journalists should not report on attitudes at all — there can be value in these surveys, particularly if a journalist is focusing on a specific demographic. Rather, I strongly urge any journalists reporting on the public’s attitudes and beliefs about vaccines to check out the AHCJ’s tip sheet for covering vaccine hesitancy and contact researchers in vaccine hesitancy — a robust research field on its own — who can provide context on the findings. See AHCJ’s list of experts in our vaccine reporting tip sheet for a range of folks who can speak to the media about vaccine hesitancy.

From the survey: What if you saw each of the following from a preferred local news source?

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