Patsy Stinchfield, MS, CPNP, on COVID-19 Communication Framework to Help Promote Vaccine Acceptance

In this podcast, Patricia (Patsy) A. Stinchfield, MS, CPNP, talks about the communication framework from the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases (NFID) to help leaders across many sectors, including healthcare, business, education, and government, promote vaccine acceptance and encourage COVID-19 prevention measures. 

Additional Resource:

Patricia A. Stinchfield, MS, CPNP, is president-elect of the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases (NFID) and a pediatric nurse practitioner in infectious disease at Children’s Minnesota. 


Jessica Bard: Hello everyone, and welcome to another installment of Podcasts360, your go‑to resource for medical news and clinical updates. I'm your moderator, Jessica Bard with Consultant360 Specialty Network.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there had been more than 28 million cases of COVID‑19 and more than 500,000 deaths due to COVID‑19 in the United States as of March 1st, 2021. The pandemic has had devastating impacts on all aspects of life, stretching healthcare professionals, hospitals, and health systems to their limits.

That's why the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases led a virtual roundtable with participants from more than 50 organizations in order to create a framework for communication, promoting COVID‑19 vaccine acceptance and prevention measures.

Patsy Stinchfield is here to speak with us about that today. Patsy is the NFID president‑elect and a pediatric nurse practitioner in infectious disease at Children's Infectious Disease and Immunology clinic in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Thank you for joining us today, Patsy. Who was involved in that roundtable? Please tell us more about the purpose.

Patsy Stinchfield: It was a wonderful roundtable we held in January, with representatives from multiple sectors including public health, government, and education. There were some unions. There were communication specialists, lots of professional societies. It was just a marvelous gathering.

Jessica: From that roundtable, the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases issued a new framework to help promote vaccine acceptance. What strategies and messages are included in that framework?

Patsy: The framework just gets at the problem of hesitancy. We, in the beginning of the pandemic, saw some hesitancy about this virus. "Is it really that bad? Is it really real?" Then the hesitancy rolled into mask wearing. "Why do I need to wear a mask? Does it really work?" and all the messaging around that. Now we have hesitancy around vaccines.

With multiple voices and in pandemics, it's natural that you're going to have new and evolving science and information. The messages sometimes can be confusing to people. They can sometimes get lost. They can maybe even be competing information.

What we wanted to do is to say we're not out of the pandemic. We still need to all work together. These various sectors need to collaborate and try to put some framework around how our communications should go.

Some of the main principles of it are important in our everyday communications. First is respect. We have to earn the trust and listen to the people that we're trying to communicate with.

Another principle is transparency. That is tell the truth. Even if it's not good news, make sure that we are giving people the information that they need when they need it.

We want to also use the principle of empathy. That is to acknowledge we are all in this together. It is not fun. I hear you. I hear the pain of how annoying a mask can be in public. I hear that we all want to get back to normal. Have that empathy.

Then also a main principle is equity, making sure that we are speaking to everyone. From that comes multiple avenues of practical things that we can do such as communicate clearly, communicate often.

Use your message so that it's tailored to the community that you're trying to reach. Have messengers that are influencers in that community. There's a lot of great practical tips that came out of the framework.

Jessica:  According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, as of February 2021, 22 percent of adults in the United States said they would wait and see before getting the vaccine. 22 percent said they are unwilling to get the vaccine.

What are some of the biggest concerns for the wait‑and‑see group? What is being done to listen and respond to those valid concerns?

Patsy: We call that wait‑and‑see group the movable middle because the majority of people do want to get vaccine. This is for all vaccines. Most people do follow schedules. Certainly, we're seeing that most people want COVID vaccine. There is about 22 percent that are firm decliners. They just do not want this vaccine.

That movable middle is the group that is hesitant. They're waiting. They want more information. They maybe just are not quite trusting. "How did this go so fast? Is it really safe?" They're watching basically to see, "What becomes the social norm? Who's getting vaccinated? How do they do?"

We want to make sure that that moveable middle is heard and that they get all of their questions answered, their fears, what the science is, how the vaccine works. We have so much information now, as we've been sharing through the v‑safe program in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), just how safe and effective this vaccine is even for pregnant women.

It's sharing that information to move that movable middle.

Jessica: What are some of the responses that you all are giving for the people who said, Did it move too fast? and others who have those concerns. What are some of those actual responses that you are giving?

Patsy: My response has been, I had the same concern, "Wow, this went as fast as I've ever seen, faster than any other vaccine. How did that happen? What is messenger RNA?" There were a lot that we, as scientists, needed to understand and learn too.

We can share, "I had that same question." It puts you on the same field as people who are asking these questions. My answer on the speed of it is we invested a lot of money in the United States and around the world. First of all, we collaborated in an unprecedented way between scientists and academics. We shared information.

People did nothing else but focus on this vaccine. What we mainly want people to know is that no corners were cut in the safety aspect of this. As typical in clinical trials, phase I, II, III, the appropriate safety measures were taken, the regulatory review. That was the area that no safety measures were cut.

Jessica: What about a message for people who are worried about any possible long‑term effects of a COVID‑19 vaccine?

Patsy: When you look at vaccine research and new vaccines that come on to the community, and for us to begin using them, they're very well-researched. We start small and small numbers, and then make sure that it's safe.

We're doing that right now and studying COVID vaccine in children. We don't just start with a large group. We start with adults, then we move down in ages. We test it for safety. We test it for tolerability. We test whether it's working—Is it building the antibodies? Then you go to a larger group and then a larger group. Now we're out into our population.

That would not have rolled out to the population if there were any safety signals. When you look at vaccine research, anyone who's going to have a severe reaction to a vaccine, that is mostly going to happen usually within the first day or two, and at the farthest out within the first couple of months.

So, in the research, that is how we were studying people. Then we get their first dose, second dose and then be observed for two months. That's the data that we've been using. Then we'll be following many of these subjects for up to one to two years afterwards.

We know that if there was going to be serious side effects, they would have been shown in the trials before we released it out to the general population.

Jessica: What are some of the biggest challenges healthcare professionals have experienced with public confidence in science and medicine throughout the COVID‑19 pandemic? What lessons really have been learned?

Patsy: It is really difficult for us in healthcare, science, medicine, nursing to know that science is the foundation of all that we do every day and to have people question it or to seem that it just doesn't seem appropriate in some ways. For us to have to explain things, it is a little bit surprising, but that is our job right now.

People have access to information. Sometimes that is misinformation that they're getting through social media. We, as scientists, have to take the time. We have to listen to what concerns are. We have to make sure that we are building that confidence. That gets back to telling the truth and making sure that we're sharing all the data when we have it.

That's why the United States and our vaccine approval process is one of the most transparent models in the world. That's a really important part that people need to know, that we're all working on this together and it is transparent. You can ask us any questions.

Jessica: To sum it up, why is it so important to have consistent messaging to gain public confidence in the vaccine and get everyone on the same page?

Patsy: Consistent messaging is one of the other tools along with hand hygiene, washing our hands, wearing a mask, having our physical distancing, avoiding crowds, getting vaccinated. Communicating clearly is a tool that will get us all on the same page and out of the pandemic. We really need that 80 percent or more of community immunity.

If we have people that are resistant to getting vaccinated and we're not achieving that 80 percent, this pandemic could persist. We talk about the importance of how wonderful it was to create a vaccine. Now we're in the hard part, which is vaccination and getting all of us one arm at a time out of this pandemic.

We do that by communicating about it, telling the truth about safety that this is a very safe vaccine. It is working and surpassed our wildest hopes at 94, 95 percent effectiveness and 100 percent effective in preventing people from having to go to the hospital or dying from COVID.

It is wonderful for us to be less than a year from the beginning of the pandemic, having a tool such as vaccination. Now we all just need to do it. Communicating clearly about that and consistently in a collaborative way from many sectors, the right message from the right messenger is what this is all about.

Jessica: To sum it up, what are the biggest takeaways for our audience here today?

Patsy: The biggest takeaway is that having questions or concerns is normal. We want to make sure that we are acknowledging people's questions and concerns, that we're listening, that we're getting the message that's tailored to that person and their community, that we've got our social norms around vaccination.

We want to make sure that we're giving people hope that vaccines work, vaccines will get us out of this pandemic, that we can be positive about a future doing the kinds of things, going to concerts, sporting events, big family reunions.

I personally look forward to all of that, but we won't get there unless we get ahead of this virus. The way to do that is through vaccination and communicating clearly that we need everyone as far as that community immunity.

Jessica: Is there anything else that you'd like to add today?

Patsy: I would just say thank you to everyone for having the willpower to continue to wear masks, even when it's springtime. We all just want to bust out of our winter homes.

We want to bust out of the pandemic, but having that ability to look at the whole to say, "I got to wear my mask a little bit longer. I've got to go get my vaccine when that becomes available to me, that I'm not going to just do it for myself. I'm going to do it for my family and my whole community. That together we can do this and we can get back to the things that we love."

Jessica: Thank you so much for your time. We appreciate it. It was nice speaking with you.

Patsy: Thanks for having me.