Rehana Wolfe

Rehana Wolfe

Director of Consulting Services

Scientists and life sciences companies around the globe are racing to find an effective vaccine for SARS-CoV-2. The sheer magnitude of funding and effort applied to this process is staggering. It is a mobilization of the scientific community, the likes of which we’ve not seen since the great space race of the 1960s. But what happens when we reach the moon, so to speak? Can we claim victory when we announce FDA approval and availability of a safe and efficacious vaccine?  While the development of a vaccine will have been a herculean task, it is only the beginning. The next hurdle we will face in turning the tide against coronavirus is ensuring that people get vaccinated.

The challenge of changing behaviors

Changing behaviors and beliefs can take time and requires a holistic understanding of the factors causing them.  In the vaccines ecosystem, many things – including misinformation, trust, confusing guidelines, clinical decision-making, access and healthcare systems – have all contributed to vaccine hesitancy and optimism bias. As the world awaits the needed coronavirus vaccine, there is a growing concern that that these behaviors could also affect the rapid adoption of the vaccine; especially given that it will be an “experimental vaccine” for emergency use. Vaccine hesitancy (delay in acceptance or refusal of vaccination despite availability of vaccination services) and optimism bias (less likely to be affected by the virus), compounded with the varying degrees of perception of severity of the disease across different population groups, requires an urgent collaboration of all the interdisciplinary players in the vaccines ecosystem.

At the end of June, only 50% of Americans say they may get an approved SARs-COV-2 vaccine. According to the Washington Post, “1 in 7 Americans said they would not get it because they distrust vaccines in general.”  

When public health hinges on public trust

An effective way to address vaccine barriers and achieve successful vaccine uptake is to approach the problem from a “Human-Centered Design” perspective. Human centered design (HCD) is defined as the process to conceive and form a solution for an identified problem through an interdisciplinary and iterative approach focused on understanding and meeting human needs.

Ending the pandemic is the ultimate goal and to do so, populations need a safe and effective vaccine. As was mentioned above, producing a vaccine is just the first hurdle.  The bigger and more important challenge is getting people to believe, trust and take action to vaccinate.  According to the CDC, only 47% of the population 18 years and older get the annual flu shot. So how do we get at least a 70% vaccination coverage with the future SARs-CoV-2 approved vaccine/s given current beliefs?

An HCD approach to fighting coronavirus

Addressing the issue through HCD can lead to a higher probability of successful behavioral change.  The HCD approach focuses on three key things:

  • Direct Engagement with Users: This is the lynchpin that provides insight from each critical perspective, allowing us to see the problem from the eyes of those who will be most affected. 
  • Interdisciplinary Collaboration: The act of involving various perspectives and viewpoints in the active design of the solution. Imagine how vaccine development and rollout planning might be more effectively achieved if the right spread of diverse perspectives were involved in various inputs and decisions along the way, and these inputs were not simply left to the typical few? Well synthesized insights and decision support derived from multiple perspectives working together makes final executive-level decisions more effective.

Frequent Prototyping (iterative forming, testing and learning): This is a common element in solution design these days. However, the process is relevant here and should be incorporated in a considered way to achieve effective vaccination roll-out to the public. The scientific community has well established processes for testing and learning during vaccine development but infusing feedback from the public during vaccine development regarding vaccine delivery (and not waiting until the vaccine is ready to be released) could be a game changer.

Creating change with purpose

Advancing the mindset to vaccinate against SARs-CoV-2, is a journey that will take vision, craft, care, experience, expertise, collaboration and attention to detail. It is a journey of three phases: Learn, Dream and Realize.  While a common approach in HCD, here’s what this would look like in the context of vaccination adoption.


human centered design flow
Learn, Dream, Realize

Learn (direct engagement with users)

In the learning phase, a workshop is conducted to connect with the customers/users of the information to Identify key problems to solve from customers’ perspective.  In this case, the workshop will tease out the varying vaccine sentiments and the rationale behind these sentiments. Further understanding of the customer needs to move the needle on a factor such as “mistrust” is intimately explored that helps inform a future state solution.

Dream (envision the solution)

In the dream phase further explores the potential solutions and learnings from phase 1 through a second workshop with interdisciplinary teams, that is, key stakeholders in the vaccines ecosystem (scientists, epidemiologist, HCPs, consumers, policy makers, payers). Capturing the perspectives of all critical stakeholders versus just a few will drive the creative thinking on all the intricacies and complexities of how each stakeholder can impact communication  to influence trust.  This ideation workshop leads to identifying   high value opportunities and alignment to a common vision across all stakeholders thereby creating an actionable plan for the desired change over  time.

Realize (develop and test the solution)

Finally, we put the ideas into action – that is the design of the solution; whether it is an app, a game or other digital tool that will engage and educate the consumer and drive the change to vaccinate. This stage requires design and testing of the product in several iterations to gather and analyze qualitative and quantitative information to understand impact and where to improve.  This iterative solution prototyping and testing brings fundamental learning that help reduce risk through bounded experiments and build incrementally toward the vision. The learnings and adjusting through ongoing analytics will deliver value to the internal and external customers.

In summary, design thinking can deliver a close up appreciation of the customers’ needs when they are included from treatment design to delivery. This is akin to the architect and the client.  They work together to build the best home that will meet the needs of the customer after exploring options and benefits or tradeoffs. Design thinking is deeper than the traditional journey mapping that quite often happens after a treatment is in the market or is done to understand where and why the patient may non-compliant with treatment regiment.

About this author

Rehana Wolfe

Rehana Wolfe

Director of Consulting Services

Rehana is a Director, Consulting Expert in CGI’s U. S operations’ life sciences sector. In this role, she helps clients assess and develop business strategies that deliver growth and prioritize strategic and technology solutions for go-to-market strategies. She has over 15 years of global biopharmaceutical ...