Vaccines are Here: Time to Deploy the Media Machine

Using Communication to Address Vaccine Hesitancy

Sam Chavez
Sam Chavez

Table of Contents

We had a good week in America this week (I have PTSD just saying that!). The House and Senate have now passed the American Rescue Package that will increase unemployment benefits, achieve the long promised $2,000 in survival checks, cut child poverty in half, give desperately needed funds to states to ramp up vaccination and testing efforts, give funds to schools to reopen, and so much more. Seriously, just take a look at whatโ€™s in the bill. It surprises and delights the more I read about it.

But a quiet announcement last week from Joe Biden was likely the most consequential news. Last Tuesday, President Biden announced that the U.S. will have enough vaccine supply for every American that wants one by the end of May, a more accelerated timeframe than the original July date. This was achieved through the approval of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine and a partnership between J&J and Merck brokered by the Biden administration for Merck to help produce the J&J vaccine. This is an unprecedented partnership in the Big Pharma world that would not have happened without competent government leadership. If only we had such a thing earlier in the pandemic!

Put in another way, Joe Bidenโ€™s administration will likely cut the pandemic short two months...TWO MONTHS...earlier than even they originally thought.

Thatโ€™s pretty huge. That is tangible for the American public. The Biden administration is actively improving every single American's life by getting our lives back to โ€œnormalโ€ faster. His efforts will have a direct impact on getting past this pandemic.

The next challenge now will be getting shots in arms. Vaccine distribution will ramp up quickly, which will pivot the issue towards demand. Knowing there is still quite a bit of vaccine hesitancy from minority communities that have historical concerns over government funded health programs, anti-vaxxers, and Republicans who heard their president call COVID-19 a โ€œhoaxโ€ for a full year.

Knowing this issue will quickly be the concern that Biden will have to overcome, there is much that can be done now to get ahead of this incoming challenge.

Deploy the Media Machine!

The best way to get ahead of any vaccine hesitancy is to begin communications now. Laying the groundwork over time will help these concerned communities begin to see the benefits of the vaccine and tie it to their daily lives.

There are four areas of messaging that the Biden Administration can use to prime the American people so that all Americans can feel confident in getting the vaccine and America can reach herd immunity more quickly. Remember, we need about 70% of the community vaccinated before talking about a return to โ€œnormal.โ€

  1. Incentivize
  2. Make it local
  3. Influencers
  4. Repetition

Incentivize

When the vaccine was originally approved, the White House message was that youโ€™ll still have to wear your masks, social distance, and not be able to see those outside your home. In essence, nothing would change for you if you get vaccinated.

While that is the right scientific response, it is not the right message if you want millions of skeptics to get injected with a brand new vaccine.

Luckily, the CDC reversed course this week by saying that vaccinated individuals can hang out with other vaccinated peeps in small groups and vaccinated grandparents can hug their grandkids again (queue a universal awwww).

Every American has somehow had their daily lives upended because of the Coronavirus (some more than others). Highlighting the rewards and incentives of getting vaccinated will help some skeptics get over their fears. As soon as they see others getting vaccinated and starting to resume normal life, there will be a sense of FOMO.

Biden can preempt that FOMO with public messaging. Personify what life will be like post-vaccine. Make it a reality for skeptics so that they see the tangible benefits a vaccine could make on their lives. Run TV ads with grandparents hugging their children, friends celebrating a friends birthday, or families traveling together. Make the post-vaccine world a reality to show Americans what they would get if they agree to a simple shot.

Make it Local

Each community with some vaccine hesitancy is unique. Black Americans have a very different reason to be hesitant than Trumpers.

Communication should reflect this with a unique approach to convincing each audience. Biden has shown he is prepared for this. He is working with Black churches to setup vaccination sites and train volunteers. When the church, often the center of the Black community in rural areas, is actively involved in the vaccine distribution it builds a sense of credibility and safety for the community. Not to mention it allows for more accessibility.

Influencers

Knowing each community is unique, it also requires unique voices.

This is especially true for Republicans. 1 in 4 Republicans have said they would โ€œdefinitely notโ€ ย get the vaccine or unless it was required. When a large swath of Republicans still do not believe that Biden is the legitimate President of the United States, his image does not give confidence. Wrong or right, itโ€™s a fact that needs to be addressed. Since Trump himself wonโ€™t help support the vaccine efforts (he quietly received the vaccine before leaving the White House), we must turn to other support.

Given the hesitancy in Republicans, it makes sense to use voices that they trust to spread the message and increase education about the safety of the vaccine.

Fox News hosts might be your first thought, but there are plenty of non-political influencers that can help spread the message. Why not partner with the Discovery Channel and have the Deadliest Catch guys get vaccinated on air? Or Kevin Costner from Yellowstone, which is much more popular with Republicans. Heck, why not the Property Brothers?! Youโ€™d be surprised how many Republicans love them!

Outside of entertainment, you can also get popular artists or athletes involved on the right. Letโ€™s get some country singers out there spreading the word. Or have Phil Mickelson give a 30 second recap of vaccine safety before the PGA Championship in May.

There are plenty of ways to reach Republicans and it doesnโ€™t need to be political. Finding trustworthy public figures will go a long way to helping to depoliticize vaccines and increase trustworthiness.

Repetition

Finally, the last piece of advice for the Biden Administration is repetition. The message that vaccines are safe and effective and it will get us out of the pandemic and back to a โ€œnormalโ€ life should be spread across the country constantly starting now.

There is enough disinformation (Russia, we see you) out there that we need more positive stories to counteract it. Keep the messages frequent across all kinds of places: TV, Facebook, in local communities, on the radio, etc.

The more people hear the message and the more times they hear the message, the greater the chances are that they will listen and consider getting that jab.

Bidenโ€™s Communications team has been solid from the start and theyโ€™re already championing the American Rescue Plan. The next step is vaccine demand and I have every confidence that they will meet the moment.

The More You Know ๐ŸŒˆ from Knurdology:

  1. Transforming Reach for a New Era of Political Marketing
  2. Texas Snow Storm: A Case for Reforming Democracy
  3. How to Build a Stronger Democratic Brand
๐Ÿ—ผ๐Ÿ—ž: Newsletter

Sam Chavez

Sam is a writer, strategist, and curious human. She founded the roots of change agency in 2020. Sam is a queer, white, LatinX activist whoโ€™s passionate about a livable planet & equitable societies.

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