Vaccine Hesitancy And Trusted Messengers: CVS Caremark

posted by AHIP

on March 31, 2021

On the latest episode of The Next Big Thing in Health podcast, Dr. Sree Chaguturu, Chief Medical Officer at CVS Caremark, joined hosts Matt Eyles, AHIP president and CEO, and Laura Evans to discuss CVS Caremark’s recent research on vaccine hesitancy and how that research will guide their vaccination efforts moving forward.

Listen to the full interview on Apple, Spotify, Soundcloud, and Stitcher.

Matt Eyles: We know that COVID-19 vaccination efforts continue to ramp up and as supply expands, understanding and overcoming vaccine hesitancy is going to be critical. CVS health recently completed some research on this topic. Can you talk about what your team set out to learn and some of the top takeaways from this research?

Dr. Chaguturu: This is a critically important topic for us to really understand and shape our efforts based on our understanding of vaccine hesitancy. We started out conducting a number of vaccine hesitancy surveys over the course of the pandemic. It started out in November 2020, and we conducted another one in January 2021, and we have some more recent data that we haven’t published yet but we’ll talk about today.

This research is designed to really longitudinally understand: “how willing are you to get a vaccine?” If so, “why?” If not, “why not?” And how does that break down by race, ethnicity, education and income level.

What we found is that early on in the pandemic, there were a lot of people—55% to be specific—that were in this moveable middle. They were unclear if they were going to get a vaccine. And they either felt like “yes, I’d like to, but I’m going to wait,” or “I’m not sure if I want to get the vaccine.”

What we saw from November to January is that moveable middle shrunk. What happened was there were more people who were willing and more people who were hesitant. And so, from 55% in the middle it went down to 38%, so essentially you saw this bifurcation of the moveable middle.

Since then, in March, what we see is an even smaller moveable middle where it’s only about 20%. Overall hesitancy has declined across the board, and there are more people who are interested or have already received the vaccine. There’s some really positive news here.

Laura Evans: Your research shows there are different perceptions of the vaccine in different communities. Can you talk about the importance of using culturally appropriate messaging to address each community’s specific concerns?

Dr. Chaguturu: Laura, this is so important. And we have seen historic inequities in how health care is delivered, and if we look at COVID-19 specifically and we look at the most tragic metric here of mortality, what we see is that there’s been a 40% higher mortality rate for black Americans than white Americans, 20% higher for Latinx compared to white Americans. So, in addressing vaccine hesitancy, it’s important that we understand specific race and ethnicity concerns.

When we look at hesitancy, we see that it’s higher among Blacks than Latinx’s and white Americans. Safety and efficacy is a primary concern for all communities when it comes to vaccine hesitancy. In terms of this concept of culturally aware messaging, I would reframe it as making sure that we have trusted individuals that are able to work with stakeholders across different communities. And to make sure that we address the concerns of each community.

What we have found is that according to our research, who is most trusted among the various potential stakeholders is clinicians. Pharmacists, doctors, nurses and individuals who are from those communities are really important.

That is in juxtaposition to celebrities, or politicians, or authorities, or actors. They’re important as well, but I can’t emphasize enough that our research shows that amplifying the voices of clinicians and clinicians from those communities is incredibly important.

Another piece is that those other groups—religious leaders, community activists, politicians and celebrities—they can amplify the messages of clinicians. So that’s not to say that they don’t have a role.

Note: This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.