Familiar Faces and Eye-Catching Resources Encourage Vaccine Confidence

Pharmacist James Cody Sandusky vaccinating his grandmother at Harrisburg Medical Center in Illinois.

Pharmacist James Cody Sandusky vaccinating his grandmother at Harrisburg Medical Center in Illinois.

“I was born down the hall from my current office and raised in this community,” said James Cody Sandusky, PharmD, director of pharmacy at Harrisburg Medical Center (HMC) in Illinois and president of the Illinois Pharmacists Association. “The people we serve at Harrisburg Medical Center are more than our patients—they’re our friends, neighbors, people we go to church with, and oftentimes family members. Knowing that there are a lot of legitimate questions around COVID-19 vaccines in my community, I made it a personal mission to help answer those questions as accurately and quickly as I could both through HMC’s public relations campaign and my own interactions in the community.”

Concerns surrounding COVID-19 vaccines still pose a significant challenge in Sandusky’s community. “A few months before the vaccines were even authorized, I had a meeting with my CEO to discuss employee perceptions of the vaccines. With so much misinformation and misconceptions circulating about, we felt it was important as a health system to first address our employees’ concerns,” he said. “Being the largest employer with significant presence in our community, we felt we needed to first ‘make things right at home’ before branching out into community outreach.”

HMC polled its employees to see how many would get the vaccine: only 17% said they would get vaccinated. Based on responses, HMC asked employees what concerns and questions they had as well as how the hospital could help them make an informed decision for themselves. “We compiled those responses and noticed a lot of common themes with peoples’ concerns. I went through the list of concerns one by one and created a question-and-answer sheet, which was distributed to all employees,” said Sandusky. “We also began including these concerns in our monthly newsletter and other hospital communications.”

Sandusky worked with the marketing department at his hospital to start a social media Small Doses Q&A education campaign series on Facebook to address questions and concerns from the community and HMC employees. Using patient-friendly language, the campaign answered questions such as “How do these vaccines work?” and “How effective are they?” He reached out to the employees for questions because they reflect a majority of the surrounding community; many of the concerns voiced by employees were also voiced by community members and posted on different social media platforms. “We took their questions and concerns and answered one or two questions a week in an eye-catching, short and effective way,” said Sandusky. His team also provided their contact information so the community could send in their questions to be featured in future posts.

“For many people, they don’t care what credentials someone on TV has who is telling them to get vaccinated—they want to hear it from someone they know and trust,” said Sandusky. “One social media campaign included my grandparents’ familiar faces; they both taught in our communities for nearly 40 years. Many people in the community know and respect them, which encouraged people to get vaccinated.”

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Feature familiar faces in patient-friendly and eye-catching educational resources to capture people’s interest in getting vaccinated.

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One of the best compliments Sandusky has ever received came unexpectedly, while sitting alone at a restaurant and decompressing after a long day. A woman walked up, tapped him on the shoulder, and excitedly proclaimed, “‘We got our COVID-19 shots! I saw your thing on Facebook and told my husband, ‘If Cody says we need to get it, we’re getting it!’”

Sandusky realized how much impact he could make in the community by simply being a resource. “Last I checked, 52% of our hospital [staff] has been vaccinated and the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive,” he said.

—Clarissa Chan
July 2021

Learn more about how to Educate Your Health Care Team and improve vaccine confidence.