Making the case on social media for vaccination

Pregnant women need to get vaccinated now, given highly contagious omicron variant, says one UW Medicine OB-GYN.

Dr. Kristina Adams Waldorf was tired of the misinformation she was seeing on social media, chat rooms and even the comments of her own patients.

“Social media has been full of disinformation, which has been particularly harmful to women and pregnant women,” said Adams Waldorf, an OB-GYN with the University of Washington School of Medicine in Seattle.

As of Jan. 15, only 42.6% of pregnant women in the United States have been vaccinated, a percentage that drops to 26.7% and 38.3%, respectively, for Black and Latina women, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

These statistics are particularly disturbing because studies have shown that pregnant women are 22 times more likely to die, and more likely to experience preterm birth if they catch COVID-19, according to research published last spring. That study was led by OB-GYN Dr. Michael Gravett and University of Oxford researchers.

Some of this low vaccination rate is due to pregnant women not being allowed to participate in clinical trials for the COVID-19 vaccines, and some misinformation, which spread early in the  pandemic, and was not challenged aggressively by the CDC and by other health authorities. For many reasons, misinformation has taken root, and Adams Waldorf decided to combat it with a social media campaign of her own – “One Vax, Two Lives.”  One component of the campaign includes a website, which has been regularly updated, posting information on the safety of the vaccine, and testimonials from patients as well as information on boosters -  all accessible in multiple languages.

The One Vax Two Lives campaign was born from a unique interdisciplinary partnership between the UW's Departments of OB-GYN and Communication and the UW Center for an Informed Public. This effort may be one of the first of its kind in the nation to specifically address reproductive health concerns related to the COVID-19 vaccine.

The team combines maternal infectious disease expertise with insights on how misinformation around vaccines spreads and takes hold from Kolina Koltai, Ph.D., from the Center for an Informed Public. Graduate students from the Communication Leadership Master’s Program are combining that knowledge with best practices in communication and marketing to deliver campaign content that influences audiences to make the healthy choice for them and their babies. 

“Misinformation about vaccines happens when there is a data void, an absence of information. We are trying to eliminate the data void about vaccines during pregnancy so that people everywhere can be truly informed about the COVID-19 vaccine” Koltai said.

“We’re really working to understand the reason for vaccine hesitancy among pregnant women,” Adams Waldorf added. “We’re trying to show via digital content, what the actual data is.”

The campaign is also on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and there are plans are to expand to TikTok next month, she said.

To date, the group estimates the Facebook campaign has reached 200,000 women in Washington state. The website has garnered 8,000 unique views.

As for the new omicron variant and its specific impact on pregnant women, that data is still being collected, Adams Waldorf said. But whatever the variant, COVID-19 still poses a substantial risk for unvaccinated pregnant women, she added.

She tells her patients to wear N95 or KN95 masks, to socially isolate themselves as much as possible and to get vaccinated and boosted.  “The next six weeks or so will probably be really tough because of the omicron waves,” she said. “It’s time to hunker down, be very careful about who you associate with and wear the best mask you can.”

She realizes this is tough advice to take as the pandemic stretches into two years. And isolation is hard on an expectant mom’s mental health.

“We’re all tired of this pandemic after two years,” she said. “We need to take care of one another. We need to answer the questions that the vaccine-hesitant population has; and we need to do this in languages and a cultural context they feel comfortable with.”

And as for when to get the vaccine, given the omicron waves: “Now is the time for pregnant women to really reconsider and to get vaccinated and to get boosted.”

See the resource page for downloadable multimedia for use by news organizations. There is also a social media toolkit on the One Vax, Two Lives website. 

Media contact: Barbara Clements, 253-740-5043, 

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