Public engagement is critical to overcoming mistrust and building confidence in COVID-19 vaccines. This engagement is more likely to be impactful if the process is established and designed so that public values are translated into practice and policy. These six public engagement strategies are designed to combat mistrust and build confidence in COVID-19 vaccines.


Form Partnerships with Community Organizations Community organizations are closer to their audiences, know how to effectively tailor information, and, most importantly, have trusted leaders who can be effective spokespersons. Local governments can activate faith-based networks, existing community health worker programs, or local advocacy and activism groups (such as organizers of get-out-the-vote efforts or the census or neighborhood coalitions formed to improve walkability or green spaces) for specific vaccine efforts.


Engage with and Center the Voices and Perspectives of Trusted Messengers who have Roots in the Community Engaging with community leaders can be effective in building buy-in and trust in vaccination efforts. Listening to community members' concerns is important for local health departments as well as providing support and resources to ensure the communities have culturally-appropriate informatin about the vaccines and equitable access to vaccination. Social media or advertising campaigns encouraging community members to share why they choose to get vaccinated—such as the “whatsyourwhy” and “blackwhysmatter” social media hashtags—can be persuasive.


Engage Across Multiple, Accessible Channels Use a variety of communications channels to reach vulnerable populations, such as town hall meetings, special community events, or faith-based gatherings. To reach individuals with limited English literacy skills, translate health messages into languages other than English or use visuals to communicate information. Consider ways to reach those who cannot attend public meetings or who have limited broadband services.


Begin or Continue Working Towards Racial Equity Authorities can acknowledge disparities in COVID-19 outcomes along racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic lines and frame COVID-19 vaccines as one of several tools that can help advance equity in communities most affected by the pandemic. This can help elevate the broader structural factors—such as housing, jobs, and health care access—that impact health.


Allow and Encourage Public Ownership of COVID-19 Vaccination Trust is critical to vaccine acceptance. However, trust in public health is low within some populations, including many communities of color. Public oversight and community engagement have the potential to inspire greater public confidence in COVID-19 vaccination. Actively seek engagement with the public, listen to feedback and adapt accordingly, establish local public oversight committees, use bottom-up approaches with community members leading solutions, and frame vaccination as a public good.


Measure and Communicate Inequities in Vaccine Distribution Measuring inequities in vaccine distribution and communicating results to the public in real time is critical to building trust. Monitor how vaccines are being distributed and work with community leaders to implement solutions as inequities arise.

Community engagement is key to overcoming mistrust and building confidence in COVID-19 vaccines. By building relationships, centering community voices, working towards equity, and being transparent about progress and setbacks, public health practitioners can continue to earn community trust. Strong community engagement aimed at identifying and understanding local concerns will help determine what messaging, delivered by whom, will be most effective.


Learn More

These rapid expert consultations were produced by SEAN (supported by the National Science Foundation and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation) and the Standing Committee on Emerging Infectious Diseases and 21st Century Health Threats (Supported by the Department of Health and Human Services and the Office of Science and Technology Policy).

Read the guidance online at

How can SEAN help?

Are you a policy maker? Do you have a question you need answered? SEAN will consider the most pressing questions and engage the nation’s experts to focus on your challenges. Contact us at or 202-334-3440.

SEAN is a network of experts in the social, behavioral, and economic sciences poised to assist decision makers at all levels as they respond to COVID-19. The network appreciates any and all feedback on its work. Please send comments to