"The big message I was trying to send home is that there's a
diversity of reasons for why people don't want to get
vaccinated," Hedges said. "You need to understand their why
and be able to ask the questions in an unbiased way to get them to
talk. You may not move the needle in that first conversation, but you
may have an inkling that you can build on in the future."
Hedges also emphasizes concentrating on that middle of the population
that remains undecided about vaccines. Research has helped identify a
sizable group in that category. For instance, a quantitative survey
through a GVSU and Kent County Health Department partnership done
within the last year showed nearly 43 percent of those unvaccinated
were undecided, she said.
If you're wondering how that could be after all this time, Hedges
offers but one example: A single parent, working two jobs and living
paycheck to paycheck, can't afford to take time off work for even the
normal but sometimes disruptive short-term side effects of a vaccine.
Or, someone may have received other vaccines but is hesitant about
this one, she said. Relatively few people are fully against every
vaccine, she said. More fall into a vaccine-selective segment, which
is just another reason why media messaging dividing people into two
stark labels is misleading.
"This is where anthropology can really contribute to the
discussion – who you interact with, and what conversations you're
having or not having influences people," Hedges said. "That
's where the personal narratives and stories make such a difference."
That anthropological insight into the nuances of vaccine confidence
has been crucial for those in the Kent County Health Department, said
Joann Hoganson, director of community wellness.
"Sometimes we know the science but we don't know how to bridge
the science to all of the populations that we serve," Hoganson
said. "Kristin has been very valuable at helping us look at the
populations we're trying to reach and ask, 'What might be their
resistance? What might be some of their belief systems or historical
background that would make them either resistant or very open to
taking the vaccine?'"
Hoganson said department members have also seen the benefit to
thinking broadly about the role of community health care workers,
something Hedges has encouraged to enhance the reach of messaging.
In Ottawa County, the work done by Hedges has helped affirm the
perspectives from health workers in the field who noticed a desire by
people to have conversations about vaccines, said Alison Clark,
communications specialist and public health officer for the Ottawa
Department of Public Health.
While the department has worked to overcome structural barriers to
clinic accessibility, such as transportation issues, officials have
also noticed a consistent theme emerging on the importance of
community health workers as a trusted source of information, Clark said.
"When they could have those one-on-one conversations and build
that trust, sometimes people would go ahead and get vaccinated,"
Clark said. "Sometimes, people would say 'I'll think about what
you said' or 'Thank you for being willing to listen to me and provide
information.' Even if the outcome or action didn't necessarily change,
people were at least wanting to have those conversations."