Damian K. Francis

The public has two main weapons in the ongoing fight against COVID-19 — the vaccine and mitigation measures.

Those measures include actions like regular hand washing, mask-wearing while indoors and in crowded areas, and social distancing. All those measures were being heavily promoted early on in the pandemic as the world waited for the vaccine. 

Then the vaccines started becoming available earlier this year, and less emphasis was placed on the previous measures.

Epidemiologist and Georgia College assistant professor of public health Dr. Damian Francis would like to see messaging behind mitigation measures return to pre-vaccine levels.

“We let off the message of mask and mitigation measures,” Francis said. “We kind of eased up on the communication and messaging as we were touting our successes in the domain of vaccination. Many people got back comfortable with not wearing a mask, going out without social distancing and other mitigation measures like washing hands. I would say that’s a misstep with the messaging … When you talk about mitigation practices like hand washing and mask-wearing, which are simply non-invasive mitigation measures, individuals can be persuaded if the messaging is correct. What we almost got right were the messages we sent out in the first wave, particularly when we were facing the original variant of this virus.”

Now, thanks in large part to the Delta variant, Georgia is facing its third big wave. New daily cases and the seven-day moving average of those cases are approaching the peak reached in the early weeks of this year, according to Georgia Department of Public Health data. 

Meanwhile, DPH says only 43% of Georgia’s population of more than 10 million are fully vaccinated while 50% have received one dose. Francis believes the messaging behind vaccine campaigns needs adjusting as well. He said members of the public essentially fall into one of three categories: vaccine-receptive, vaccine-hesitant and “vaccine-stubborn.” 

“There are those who are going to get the vaccine,” said Francis. “They are not hesitant and have made their minds up. Then there are those who are vaccine-hesitant who are still trying to make up their minds. Then there are those who are plain out vaccine-stubborn. They have made their minds up that they are not getting the vaccine.”

While he would like to see those who are vaccine-stubborn change their minds, Dr. Francis said he believes messaging should be concentrated toward that second group.

“I think most of our efforts should be spent on the group that is truly hesitant, not the group that is stubborn. Those who are hesitant lack information and clarity, so I think more communication needs to be done at the grassroots level.”

Francis gave testing and vaccine mobilization efforts as examples of what can be done to educate those hesitant individuals. Outdoor operations were set up when the need arose for testing and administering vaccines. He thinks similar practices could be done to educate those still wary of being vaccinated. 

“I think we have not done enough educating. We are just assuming that because the vaccine works, people should take it. We are not taking into consideration their culture, context and the skepticism that sometimes in some populations is justifiable. We need to take the time to hear those concerns and address them to get people in the right frame of mind.”

 

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