Here are some guidelines for communicating with rural and hard-to-reach communities
Recognize transportation barriers and offer a solution. Especially in rural environments, transportation inconvenience or lack of access will be top-of-mind. Offer solutions/options in your communication plan to help provide better information about physical access to COVID-19 vaccines.
Offer mailed information to communities where internet bandwidth may be limited or not consistent. Low internet bandwidth is a reality in many rural communities. Try different outreach methods, leveraging digital communications in a printed format to reach this constituency. This can be automated by using bulk messaging actions through healthcare provider EHRs.
Answer questions on financial concerns. Clarify the free-offering of vaccines and that there are no hidden costs by healthcare providers.
Offer resolution regarding religious considerations. Religious communities are often a foundation in rural communities and provide access to health information, a sense of community belonging, and social events. Use digital media to provide examples of trusted community members receiving the vaccine, while also keeping a sense of fatalism (fatalismo) that’s a cornerstone in many religions and even secular communities.
Agency/freedom of choice is paramount in rural communities.
Address strong attitudes in rural areas regarding the risk of disease transmission. There has been research that residents of rural areas have less worry about coronavirus transmission compared to urban areas. Nearly half of rural residents surveyed felt that the seriousness of the coronavirus is “generally exaggerated” .. To reach this audience, it is important to highlight the benefits of vaccination that may emphasize values that go beyond community immunity and/or risk of severe disease. Meet your constituents with what they value most.
Utilize social media for reach, but invest in maintaining comments. Although in rural areas, public health departments are often overleveraged and understaffed, there are remote options for hiring Community Managers that are digital natives and trained in support/help content response to monitoring your Facebook Pages, Twitter, Youtube comments, etc. This can be a rich source of engagement and scaling, as they can field oncoming comments that would otherwise be turned off because of internal department resource constraints.
Dispell misinformation and reframe the narrative. Avoid the urge to “mythbust” - in a 10-second skim, it’s just as easy for a reader to not see the word “Myth” as it is for them to read the statement you’re trying to debunk.