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Why mobile messaging can improve the COVID-19 vaccine rollout
Tue, 23rd Mar 2021
FYI, this story is more than a year old

Australia has a plan to ensure 80% of its population are vaccinated by October 2021. Stage 1B of Australia's coronavirus vaccination program is rolling out this week, with about 6 million people eligible to receive their first doses. New Zealand is now three and a half weeks into its programme, with 90% of frontline workers vaccinated. As the programme ramps up, it expects to vaccinate 20,000 citizens per day.

However, for this to work, governments on both sides of the Tasman will need to work closely with healthcare providers to deliver communications to build and maintain citizen trust in the integrity of the process. Australia and New Zealand also have the advantage of learning from other markets like the US and UK, where citizen vaccination programs are well underway.

For example, there have been reports that opportunistic scammers in the UK and Singapore are requesting payment for vaccines via text, resulting in significant financial losses. Governments have sent reminders that the vaccines are free, and citizens are being advised on how to verify a sender's authenticity, never to disclose personal or bank details and how to report suspected scam texts.

The importance of mobile messaging in driving behavioural change 

In previous vaccination programs, the widespread availability of mobile phones has been an important factor in enabling the broadest population coverage to drive the required behavioural change. Using mobile messaging is expected to play a significant part in both the education and logistics needed to drive this vaccination effort.

Text messages have been used in several successful vaccination programs. Columbia University Medical Centre researchers looked at the impact SMS had during an influenza vaccination program across 660 families with children who needed a second influenza vaccine dose. It found promising results.

By using educational text messages as part of the vaccination program, it found that just over 73% got their second dose, compared to those who got a more traditional written reminder, where only 57% went back for their second dose. The research also highlighted that parents found the text message information was “helpful, provided information quickly, and demonstrated that someone cared.

There are three top tips to consider when assessing how mobile messaging can play a critical role in patient education:

  • Text messaging is a rapid and direct way to connect to people on a more personal level to get critical information to them
  • If the receiver has opted into receiving text communication from an agency or health provider, they will be able to verify the information has come from a trusted source
  • A direct message from a trusted source has bypassed media and third-party filters to ensure it gets to the people who need it most.

Ensuring the efficacy of vaccine communications

As seen in other markets, having a robust pre-screening process and supporting communication to educate healthcare workers and patients will be critical. Reducing no-show rates will also be fundamental when trying to reach as many people as quickly as possible to minimise vaccine wastage.

This underlines the importance of text message appointment reminders to ensure the double dose is administered within the appropriate timeframe. In the US, the Centres for Disease Control has encouraged healthcare organisations to consider automated voice and text messages to manage patient notifications regarding the all-important second dose. Once a patient has had both doses, follow up messages can be sent to make sure there are no reactions. If a patient does experience a side effect, they can quickly report it via text message and get the support they need.

For those Government departments and Healthcare providers embarking on vaccine focused communications programs, here are some key ‘must do' steps to consider with your ICT team:

Enable verified authentication — Verify your organisation as a sender to give patients confidence in the source of the text messages and information they are receiving.

Prioritise communication — Think about what people need to know and when they need to know it and communicate in phases to avoid overwhelming people.

Use simple language — Be clear and concise, avoid jargon. Consider your demographics and ensure the messages are appropriate to them.

Provide time-bound information — Provide advice on what to do or expect next and give guidance on how to get more information or what to do in the event of an adverse reaction.

A healthy dose of trust will be key

With significantly higher opening and response rates than other forms of communication, text messaging has been proven as a trusted way to deliver time-critical information to its intended audience.

Communication delivered via mobile messaging will be a critical part of deploying the vaccine to citizens across Australia and New Zealand. It can help create trust through education, and it can help manage the complex logistics of getting entire populations vaccinated quickly and safely.