Summary: As the predictably messy fallout from the global COVID-19 pandemic turns the page to a new chapter, higher education is in a conflicted position regarding vaccine requirements. Here’s how schools can reach out to students during this time to assure a safe “back to school.”

These are strange times, and they keep getting stranger. A gaggle of politicians is moving to prevent universities from requiring returning students to provide proof of vaccination. This comes in the wake of the global COVID-19 pandemic, which has claimed 3.2 million lives worldwide as of this writing. The numerous vaccines have begun distribution in stages, with those most at-risk receiving them first.

At this point, getting the vaccine is a voluntary act open to most citizens. In most cases, this is a simple matter of scheduling a free shot at your nearest pharmacy. The controversy is over the proposed issuance of a “vaccine passport,” which would certify the holder as safe enough to participate in public gatherings, recreational venues, travel, and other activities previously restricted due to the pandemic.

Some of the states where universities’ (and general) vaccine policies are being challenged include:

  • Michigan: Dual House bills to prevent vaccine passports and prohibiting university vaccine mandates
  • Texas: Governor has banned any tax-funded entity from requiring vaccine passports, including state-funded universities
  • Utah: Governor has signed a law to prohibit any educational institution from requiring a student to show proof of vaccination
  • Florida: Governor has issued an executive order barring businesses from requiring proof of vaccination, but it’s unclear how this applies to universities
  • Montana: Governor has issued an executive order prohibiting vaccine passports
  • North Carolina: is having a debate about this issue
  • Iowa: Is advancing a bill to ban vaccine passports

The logic behind these bans is difficult to follow but seems to be based upon a mixture of concerns about personal liberties, privacy, and health choices. Idaho Governor Brad Little, issuing his executive order banning vaccine passports, stated:

“Vaccine passports create different classes of citizens. Vaccine passports restrict the free flow of commerce during a time when life and the economy are returning to normal. Vaccine passports threaten individual freedom and patient privacy.”

 

Universities Would Like Students To Be Vaccinated Anyway

On the flip side of this controversy, over 100 schools have announced a vaccine requirement for students. More are being added to that list nearly by the hour. It’s clear that most higher education institutions favor an immunized student base. Moreover, the American College Health Association urges COVID-19 vaccination requirements for all on-campus students beginning in the Fall season of 2021.

Colleges requiring COVID-19 Vaccine

Over the past year, many colleges have been requiring students to receive the COVID-19 vaccine before returning to campus.

 

We did not expect this to become a politicized issue, but here we are. That’s our American politics, always full of surprises! In the meantime, continuing education students are torn with uncertainty about the future of school health policy. As we mentioned before, the pandemic has already darkened student mental health to crisis levels. On top of the already stressful burden which the pandemic has placed on us all, the last thing we need is a big political fight about ending it.

Universities may not be allowed to require student vaccines – but they can surely, strongly encourage them! If you need to persuade someone to follow a course of action, this looks like the marketing department’s turn to shine. And the going couldn’t be easier, because students are on our side on this issue already.

 

 

 

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Students Prefer Vaccination, With or Without Passports

Inside Higher Ed publishes a survey by Maguire Associates, taken from over 14K prospective students plus another 5K parents. The survey asked about students’ willingness to attend college when it requires various pandemic safety measures.

To make a long story short: Virtually nobody is opposed to the idea! Requiring face masks on campus is favored by 94.8%, required social distancing is favored by 91.5%, and even requiring a vaccine is opposed by just 14.9% of those students surveyed. Parents of students were a bit more reserved but fell in line mostly with the students on the issue.

COVID-19 circumstances on campus

An overwhelming majority of students surveyed said that they would enroll in a college or university that was COVID-conscious. 

 

The same survey found that students and parents were less enthusiastic about fully online school options, while they were far more optimistic about returning to the full on-campus experience. Finally, 69% said they were entirely comfortable getting a COVID-19 vaccine in any context.

At this point, telling students to get a shot before heading back to school sounds almost like preaching to the proverbial choir. But those numbers are not yet 100%, so there’s still some room for improvement. Most of the stragglers on this issue, in all likelihood, have simply not been informed of all the facts.

 

Pro-Vaccine Marketing Messages

Here are a few marketing message templates we can use to bridge the gap and inform students of the facts about vaccines.

#1: Overcome Vaccine Hesitancy

Surveys conducted on the general public regarding the vaccine have uncovered a few concerns that lead to vaccine hesitancy. Those who were hesitant to get the COVID-19 vaccine stated reasons such as:

  • worries about possible side effects
  • lack of trust in its safety and effectiveness
  • concerns that it is “too new”
  • concerns over the role of government in the development process

It stands to reason that people would still need some time to get used to this new vaccine standard. The whole pandemic has left everyone’s nerves jittery. Doubtless, the ongoing conflict between certain political influences and the education and medical industries plays into this. Young people look at stories like how Dr. Fauci and his family were targeted with death threats and think, “The world’s gone crazy, and I don’t know who to trust anymore.”

For school marketing messages, an education campaign about the COVID-19 vaccine will go a long way in quelling those jitters. We have a whole summer to gather surveys and statistics regarding the vaccine’s safety. Of the three vaccines, Johnson & Johnson did hit a snag, but the CDC has cleared it to be reissued. No such issues have cropped up with Moderna or Pfizer.

It is true that the COVID-19 vaccine, being a virus inoculation, provokes mild flu-like symptoms in some recipients for a few days afterward. We’re all seeing everybody tell their vaccine stories on social media. To address this issue, schools can begin their vaccine promotion campaigns early to ensure everyone’s over the effects come opening day.

Overall, an information campaign communicating vaccine facts is crucial for overcoming hesitancy. Universities can reach out through every media channel they have: social media, their own website, university blogs, student ambassadors, and printed information pamphlets.

#2: Unite Students With Hope For Putting This Behind Us

Are we all on the same page in regards to wanting the COVID-19 pandemic to be OVER? Does anybody out there want another year of lockdowns, quarantine, and grim daily statistics? We didn’t think so.

Universities can reach out to the student body with this very empathetic message: “We all want this to be over.” Virtually everyone at this point has at least some distant relative or acquaintance who has fallen victim to COVID-19 to some degree or another. We have experienced a stressful time. Everybody wants closure.

University marketing can target this emotional appeal, urging students to work together to end the plague. Use the example of history, that the world has overcome epidemics before, to ensure students that this, too, shall pass. Young people do respond to a message of idealism and the public good. Lean on their instinct to hope for a better tomorrow.

#3: Use Trusted Messengers

Medical professionals will be an expert voice in ending the pandemic. Universities can access groups such as:

    • Healthcare providers
    • Researchers
    • Civic and community groups
    • Healthcare organizations
    • Large employers

 

These groups can be recruited as partners to help the university deliver its message of vaccine benefits. As the polls we cited above reflect, medical expert advice still carries some weight with the younger demographic. Teens and young adults naturally seek out medical information online to begin with.

If your school has any medical program or courses, or access to any health professional, get their expert advice on record and include quotes from them in your campaign.

#4: A Little Peer Pressure Never Hurt

The Washington State Department of Health has a PDF pamphlet published regarding social marketing recommendations for the COVID-19 vaccine. In that document, we learn that social marketing identifies tools for promoting behavioral change, such as:

    • Social norms: “Everyone is doing it.”
    • Prompts: Everybody gets busy and distracted; maybe they need a reminder.
    • Commitments: Get people to sign a pledge to do something, and they are more likely to follow through.
    • Convenience: Remove all barriers to getting the vaccine, making it the course of least resistance.
    • Incentives: Providing a perk helps overcome reluctance.
    • Recognition and feedback: A progress statistic like “X% have now gotten the vaccine” or thanking people for helping to flatter the curve, etc.

 

We use this kind of logic in marketing all the time, and it’s the kind of template we have used in things like WWII scrap metal drives and getting out the “Rock the Vote” message every election.

Influencers and student ambassadors can be two valuable channels for selling the “social norm” angle. Influence and peer marketing are powerful ways to reach those students who wouldn’t listen to an authority figure.

RELATED: Student Ambassadors: A Marketing Strategy to Increase Enrollment

 

Conclusions

Given that the COVID-19 pandemic has dominated world news for more than a year now, one would think that a vaccine against it would be the hottest fad since fidget spinners. To be sure, we do see a massive amount of users on social media posting their vaccine experience. In fact, experts had to advise people not to post their vaccine cards online, for data privacy. Why would people do this anyway? Because of that “social norms” factor. A vaccine card is the “I voted” sticker of the pandemic. Tap into those instincts to create campaigns that rally your student body to get vaccinated.

 

Alex Membrillo Cardinal CEO

Alex Membrillo

Founder and CEO

Alex Membrillo is the CEO of Cardinal, a digital marketing agency focused on growing multi location companies. His work as CEO of Cardinal has recently earned him the honor of being selected as a member of the 2018 Top 40 Under 40 list by Georgia State University as well as 2015 and 2016 Top 20 Entrepreneur of metro Atlanta by TiE Atlanta, Atlanta Business Chronicle’s 2016 Small Business Person of the Year,and the Digital Marketer of the Year by Technology Association of Georgia (TAG).