As COVID-19 Vaccination rates continue to decrease, we must do everything possible to increase vaccine confidence and see as many people vaccinated as quickly as possible. In our rural populations, where surveys show hesitancy is greatest, providing culturally appropriate messaging with cultural sensitivity and humility is essential to improve vaccine acceptance.

Culturally Sensitive Approaches Are Successful

For many years, Public health has understood the need to develop culturally appropriate messages and use trusted messengers to be successful in many different marginalized communities. Since the first of 2021, there has been much success reaching out to African American and Hispanic communities. Surveys and news reports from late 2020 and early 2021 focused on how hesitant African American and Hispanic populations were to get vaccinated. Many public health experts and state departments of health pulled out all the stops to make sure messaging around COVID-19 vaccines was culturally appropriate for these communities. Fortunately, we have seen a reversal in the hesitancy  African American and Hispanic populations had expressed as many people have changed their minds and decided to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

Survey Results Are Different

Surveys now highlight the fact that many rural residents are hesitant to get the COVID-19 vaccine. It is time we take a closer look at employing the same methods to reach rural populations to improve vaccine confidence.  We need to develop culturally appropriate messages to be most effective to improve vaccine confidence in our many diverse rural areas across the country. When it comes to improving COVID-19 vaccine confidence, one size definitely does not fit all!

Cultural Values in Rural Populations

Although rural regions from one side of this nation to the other, share many things in common, they also have much diversity. Poverty and isolation characterize many rural locations, along with increased chronic health issues and high health disparities. Many rural populations share a strong sense of community, strong family ties,

Race against time sign on white background. Badges and stamps series.and strong ties to the land. Frequently, people observing rural communities from the outside, see many different problems and have negative views of rural communities. In contrast, many of the people who live in these rural regions enjoy the slower pace of life, strong communities, increased social capital, as well as strong, extended family relationships. Strong cultural values, while diverse are abundant in rural populations.

Building and Gaining Trust is So Important

Another aspect common to many rural communities is a strong distrust of the government and fierce independence. This definitely requires culturally appropriate interactions in order to build trust and improve outcomes. During the COVID-19 pandemic, much political divisiveness has compounded the distrust concerning all information about COVID-19 and COVID-19 vaccines. We must focus on building and gaining trust in our rural communities if we are to have any hope of improving vaccine confidence in this population.

Rural Appalachia

One region of our country that I am particularly focused on is rural Appalachia. Tailoring messages specifically to address cultural values that are important in each population is a very important strategy. For example, in rural Appalachia, family and faith are two important cultural values. Strong messages from local trusted messengers emphasizing the importance of getting vaccinated to protect family members, as well as being able to gather in large family groups, hold family reunions, attend church picnics, and hold revivals are all messages that will resonate with large portions of the rural Appalachian population.

There is Always Hope!

Furthermore, in response to surveys that have reported a large percentage of rural residents are strongly opposed to getting the COVID-19 vaccination, several articles have also stated that there is very little chance of changing the minds of people who are strongly opposed to the COVID-19 vaccine. I do not agree with this. There is always hope! As we focus on providing culturally appropriate messages in each specific community, we will see improvement in vaccine hesitancy. Every person who shifts from vaccine hesitancy and decides to get vaccinated is very likely to be one less person that will not die or become seriously ill from COVID-19.

Fewer Deaths and Serious Illness from COVID-19

Tailoring culturally sensitive messages for each specific community that is experiencing COVID-19 Vaccine hesitancy, along with identifying the local, trusted messengers in the community to serve as vaccine champions will improve vaccine confidence.  In addition, if we continue to practice cultural humility toward others, I believe we will see improvement in the hesitancy rates in our rural communities. More people will become vaccinated and fewer people will suffer from COVID-19 disease, hospitalizations, and death.