Making it Happen: Tackling vaccine hesitancy and barriers to access


Collaboration Call Summary | April 16, 2021

Olympic Community of Health (OCH) recently brought together partners from across the Olympic region to join in an action-oriented conversation around COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy and barriers to access. This collaboration call provided space to connect with organizations and Tribes, discuss current challenges, and identify tangible next steps to better reach community members. When it comes to vaccine hesitancy, there is a place for everyone in this effort, all-hands-on deck. By collaborating with one another and uniting our strengths, we can foster a region of healthy people, thriving communities. OCH offered the following definitions to promote shared language before diving into discussion: (Source: McDonald NE, et al. Vaccine, 2015; 33 Orenstein WA, et al. Pub Health Rep, 2015; 130)

  • Anti-vaccine: An opposition to vaccination or laws that mandate vaccination

  • Vaccine hesitancy: Delay in acceptance or refusal of vaccination despite availability. Complex and context specific

  • Vaccine acceptance: Timely receipt of vaccines as recommended

  • Vaccine confidence: Trust that parents or providers have in the recommended immunization, the providers who administer the vaccine, and the process of licensure and vaccination schedule

The group collectively brainstormed a list of groups and populations they have witnessed hesitancy towards COVID-19 vaccines. The list included:

  • Rural populations

  • Pregnant and nursing mothers

  • Individuals that have had negative side effects to vaccines in the past.

  • There are some members of my tribal community that are hesitant/mistrustful of the vaccine.

  • I'm worried about young people who do not recognize COVID 19 as an issue that affects them.

  • People who feel they are healthy and like to do things naturally.

  • People for whom English is not their first language and also may not have health insurance or citizenship

  • Individuals 20-40 years of age

  • Political and religious conservatism

Behind each individual hesitancy is a unique “why”. The SAGE Working Group’s “Model of Determinants of Vaccine Hesitancy” identifies three categories of potential “whys”: contextual influences, vaccination specific issues, and individual/social group influences. OCH challenged participants to dig deep into the possible “why” behind each group/population previously identified. The most common influences brought up in conversation included:

  • Distrust

  • Misinformation and uncertainty

  • Fear

To move the conversation further towards action, participants were prompted to collectively fill out a worksheet mapping out specific barriers to vaccination while brainstorming possible outreach approaches.

Recommended strategies:

  • Identify and partner with trusted community leaders​

  • Create accurate, and transparent messages​

  • Break down complex information as opposed to over simplifying

  • Provide resources in multiple languages​

  • Frame vaccine acceptance as a social norm​

  • Use behavioral nudges​

  • Practice empathy and compassion​

  • Focus on the positive​

  • Get creative! Think outside the box​

Once strategies were paired with each hesitant group, participants reflected on their own strengths, what they bring to the table, and created commitments to address vaccine hesitancy and barriers to access in their communities. Access commitments and outreach strategies here. Below are a few specific commitments from the OCH network:

  • Susan Buell | YMCA of Pierce and Kitsap Counties: “We are committed to supporting education and access to the vaccine in Kitsap County”

  • Celeste Schoenthaler | OCH: “Share my ‘why’ for getting vaccinated with my friends and family. Continue to share accurate, trusted information with the OCH network.”

  • Dr. Gib Morrow | “Kitsap Public Health District: I'll ask Kitsap medical leaders to promote engagement from their healthcare providers in encouraging vaccinations at all clinic visits.”

  • Derek Gulas | United Healthcare: “I will take this issue to colleagues at my organization and discuss how we can proceed.”

OCH compiled a resource list to further support the goal of addressing vaccine hesitancy and barriers to access. Resources include recommended messaging, helpful articles, social media toolkits, and strategy guides.