COVID-19 has taught us how to deal with future pandemics
- Misinformation and misunderstanding have been rampant throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, causing uneven uptake and prolonging the outbreak.
- But two years of managing the virus have equipped us with the knowledge and technology to eradicate this virus, and future ones.
- By promoting unorthodox voices, harnessing analytics and predictive modeling, and focusing on hyperlocal communities, future outbreaks need not be as devastating as COVID-19.
COVID-19 has disrupted the lives of individuals, families and the economy. Since the start of the pandemic, scientific misunderstanding and misinformation – whether about the effectiveness of masks or vaccines, or the lethality of the virus itself – have prolonged and worsened the damage caused.
The bad news is that due to changes in climate, demographics, food systems and supply chains, new outbreaks on the scale of COVID-19 are only becoming more likely. However, thanks to our experience in managing this pandemic, we are now better equipped to deal with future outbreaks.
Several key lessons from the pandemic will help improve trust in science and create a toolkit to actively fill knowledge gaps, inspire positive health behaviors and prevent the spread of another infodemic, which could slow our ability to manage the spread of diseases as they emerge.
When COVID-19 emerged, the cadence of scientific briefings from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Centers for Disease Control (CDC), as well as health authorities and experts, was not sufficient to reach the segments of people who are reluctant to get vaccinated. .
Certain demographics, such as underserved minorities, Gen Z and those with varying political views, still lagged in vaccination rates. Reaching and convincing these people required diverse voices and varied channels.
Three key drivers will remain essential tools for years to come: unorthodox voices, precision and digital targeting analysis, and hyperlocal activities.
Leveraging unorthodox voices to confront COVID-19
Take Gen Z as an example. 41% of Gen Z use TikTok as their main source for their daily dose of news – more than any other generation.
For the past two years, doctors have taken to TikTok every day to debunk vaccine misinformation, explain mRNA science, compare vaccine differences, and more. Macro and micro influencers jumped on trends encouraging vaccination and social distancing.
The rise of unorthodox voices on social media responds to the demands of younger audiences to receive factual information from a credible or trustworthy source, but in a personified, entertaining and easy-to-digest way.
CDC data also showed vaccination rates among the black community lagged behind other ethnicities, inspiring more than 1,000 micro-content creators on TikTok to partner with local grassroots organizations. . Together, they raised awareness about the pandemic with the “See Friends Again” campaign, which educated young people of color on the importance of COVID-19 and vaccination.
Non-traditional voices have also influenced change through word of mouth initiatives. The state of Wisconsin, for example, created a community ambassador program — the Crush Covid Crew — to train volunteers from high-risk areas to talk to their neighbors about vaccines and dispel misinformation about them.
Use of precision analytics and digital targeting
From reporting COVID-19 hotspots in real time, to mapping nearby vaccination sites, to exposing vaccine-hesitant communities, the adoption of new digital technologies has played a critical role. to enable health officials to respond to the COVID pandemic.
In the United States, digital mapping tools have played a central role in understanding vaccination rates with respect to demographic factors. County and city officials were able to identify “vaccine deserts” and prioritize them for resource allocation. Georgia’s “Count Me In” initiative used similar technology to map vaccination sites and uncover potential barriers to vaccination, including lack of computer access and low car ownership.7
And to reach minorities too, technology has played a role. The California Department of Public Health used a chatbot in Spanish and English to help disseminate reliable information about COVID-19 and vaccine safety.
Specifically aimed at reaching the Spanish-speaking community, the chatbot helped users access information to book vaccination appointments and obtain vaccination records.
In another example, scientists and health experts launched the #ScienceUpFirst initiative, a bilingual campaign that targeted diverse socio-demographic populations on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and TikTok, and offered relevant, evidence-based content in a way succinct but engaging.
Experts are now turning to using data in a hyperlocal way. In doing so, navigate and change behaviors by understanding and tailoring action to particular communities.
COVID-19 should be managed the same way weather conditions are: using test results and public health data to predict and model the level and spread of disease in a given area.
Real-time data management can help model “when and where” pandemic measures, such as mask-wearing and lockdowns, should be mandatory. It will also guide decisions about moving healthcare resources to where they are needed most, maximizing our ability to treat patients quickly and slow the spread of disease.
Vaccine maker Moderna teamed up with supermarket chain Albertsons and neighborhood social network Nextdoor last year to create the Nextdoor Vaccine Map. The app was created to help increase vaccination rates by providing site details and scheduling appointments.
Rather than leveraging the influence of high-profile celebrities, the Nextdoor app operated as a neighborhood message board and focused on local voices such as pastors and high school coaches.
Nextdoor CEO Sarah Friar summed up the app’s value: “Finding the right influencer is the key to getting into that neighbor’s psyche and maybe changing their mind.”
The experience gained and lessons learned over the two years of COVID-19 will be critical in addressing future pandemic threats and emerging diseases. We need to use unorthodox voices, analytics and predictive models and focus on hyperlocal communities to address future outbreaks.
While COVID-19 has been devastating in the United States and beyond, the next pandemic doesn’t have to be.