by Sharon Rondeau
(Sep. 13, 2021) — In a 12-page document time-stamped “Winter 2021,” the American Medical Association (AMA) not only strongly advocated for comprehensive COVID-19 vaccination, but also provided pointers to physicians on influencing those displaying “vaccine hesitancy,” effective social-media messaging and “dealing with reputation management.”
The publication, termed a “COVID-19 vaccine guide” via its url, was published prior to the widespread availability of any of the three vaccines currently in use in the U.S., and begins:
It is critical that physicians and patients have confidence in the safety and efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines as they become available for public use.
The American Medical Association (AMA) has called for the utmost transparency in the vaccine development process and has urged the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to keep physicians actively informed about the process for vaccine authorization or licensure; standards for review; and safety and efficacy data so that doctors can address their patients’ questions and concerns.
To overcome vaccine hesitancy and ensure widespread vaccine acceptance among all demographic groups, physicians and the broader public health community must continue working to build trust in vaccine safety and efficacy, especially in marginalized and minoritized communities with historically well-founded mistrust in medical institutions. As COVID-19 vaccines become more widely available, it is critical that physicians continue to ensure they practice and encourage their patients to wear masks, physical distance and wash hands until a critical mass of the population is vaccinated.https://www.ama-assn.org/system/files/2021-02/covid-19-vaccine-guide-english.pdf
Among its purposes, the paper states on page 2, is “Eliminating non-medical exemptions for vaccines” and “combatting [sic] the spread of vaccine misinformation.”
“Template talking points” for physicians include:
• I join the AMA and leading organizations representing U.S. physicians, nurses and hospitals in affirming my commitment to ensuring COVID-19 vaccines are evaluated and ultimately authorized through a rigorous scientific and regulatory process.
• I fully support the overwhelming scientific evidence that shows vaccines are among the most effective and safest interventions to both prevent individual illness and protect the health of the public.
• When there’s a safe, effective vaccine for COVID-19, physicians without weakened or failing immune systems have an important, ethical duty to get vaccinated.
A linked document from “Physician FAQs” at the bottom of page 7 states that “The American Medical Association partnered with FDA and CDC for a series of webinars further outlining the vaccine development and review process.”
Similarly, questions patients might pose are presented from the link “Patient FAQs” here: https://www.ama-assn.org/system/files/2020-12/covid-19-vaccine-patient-faqs.pdf
In that document, to the question, “How do we know COVID-19 vaccines are safe, could they cause long-term problems?” the following response appears:
COVID-19 vaccines are being tested in large clinical trials to assess their safety. However, it does take time, and more people getting vaccinated before we learn about very rare or long-term side effects. That is why safety monitoring will continue. CDC has an independent group of experts that reviews all the safety data as it comes in and provides regular safety updates. If a safety issue is detected, immediate action will take place to determine if the issue is related to the COVID-19 vaccine and determine the best course of action.”
On pp. 5-6, the AMA recommends flu shots as well as COVID-19 vaccines based on the following:
• The AMA encourages everyone six months and older to be vaccinated against the flu.
• Getting the flu vaccine is the best way to protect yourself, loved ones and the public against the spread of flu. It also saves lives — especially vulnerable populations who aren’t eligible for vaccination such as babies younger than six months.
• We urge every eligible American to get their flu vaccine this fall because we know it’s the most effective way to protect against the flu and its potentially serious complications.
• The flu vaccine is particularly effective in reducing flu illness, doctor’s visits, missed work and school, and at preventing flu-related hospitalizations and deaths. It’s also a proven way to significantly reduce a child’s risk of influenza-associated death.
• AMA also urges physicians to encourage their pregnant patients to receive the flu vaccine. Pregnant women can receive the flu vaccine during any trimester but should also receive the Tdap vaccine early in the third trimester. Receiving both vaccines offers protection against flu, pertussis, whooping cough and diphtheria.
• Estimates from the CDC last fall showed the vast majority of pregnant women in the U.S. are not vaccinated against the flu and whooping cough; it is vitally important that all pregnant women get the flu and Tdap vaccines this season.
“New ethical guidance” appearing on page 5 states that “it is not ethically problematic to exempt individuals when a specific vaccine poses a risk due to underlying medical conditions” but that “Ethical concerns arise when individuals are allowed to decline vaccinations for non-medical reasons.”
Regarding “vaccine hesitancy,” “physicians and the broader public health community must continue working to build trust in vaccine safety and efficacy, especially in marginalized and minoritized communities with historically well-founded mistrust in medical institutions,” the paper states on page 7.
To that end, the paper contends, trusted community “messengers should deliver messages that instill a sense of personal responsibility for vaccination and that promote social pressure, particularly in Black communities.”
Page 8 of the document is dedicated to “best practices” in “general media messaging,” including recommendations under the heading, “Interview Response Formula – Controlled Response.”
Interview methods suggested include offering a media “hook,” “stalling,” and to “communicate factually, openly, honestly.”
Page 9 makes suggestions on how to post about COVID-19 on social media, including the use of imagery and “plain language,” while maintaining “informative content that links back to evidence-based, credible sources and articles can drive engagement.”
A graphic at the bottom of the page offers “COVID-19 Language Swaps” to “help mitigate perceived partisanship in COVID-19 messaging.” For example, the term “lockdown,” the chart says, could be substituted with, “stay-at-home order.” Instead of “Operation warp speed,” which the paper acknowledges produced the vaccines, the chart advises the term, “Standard process.”
“The world’s leading experts” can be replaced with, “America’s leading experts,” the chart says.
The last three pages advise physicians about optimizing their online presence and “dealing with vaccine detractors online.”
Early Thursday afternoon, The Post & Email requested an interview from the AMA through its media contact form, providing a link to the COVID-19 Vaccine Guide for background. Having received no response by Monday morning, we called the telephone number provided and found it to be non-functional. We then resubmitted the form, relating that discovery and a second interview request.