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If you’ve been waiting for a major national campaign telling you that COVID-19 vaccines are safe and everyone should get them, don’t hold your breath. Until supplies are plentiful, federal efforts are largely focused on minority communities that are reluctant to vaccinate.
It’s a smart approach, say experts.
The kind of unified public service announcements that once covered the country will no longer work for the COVID-19 vaccine. These were meant for universal messages – only you can prevent forest fires, keep America beautiful, friends don’t let friends drive drunk.
With COVID-19, different communities need different messages, and mass advertising doesn’t necessarily make sense, said Hal Hershfield, professor of behavioral decisions at the Anderson School of Management at the University of California at Los Angeles.
“If you really think about the budget and the need for specific news, it’s reasonable not to have a huge national campaign,” he said.
That hasn’t stopped some countries, especially Asia, from creating coronavirus mascot characters to promote safety and get vaccinated. Japan has two, Koronon, a masked cat, and Quaran, a winged yellow ball with goggle mascots for airport quarantines. Thailand has Covid-Kun, a spiky red object that encourages hand washing. Brazil has repurposed its polio vaccine mascot Zé Gotinha (Joseph Droplet) for COVID-19.
A previously proposed awareness-raising exercise ran into trouble over concerns. She was part of a celebrity Trump administration campaign worth $ 250 million to defeat desperation over COVID-19 ahead of the presidential election. The cost of the current campaign has not been published.
Currently, the national COVID-19 news from Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control, Ad Council, and several other groups is simple.
They encourage Americans to wear masks, social distance, and stay safe while they wait for the vaccine, said Ian Sams, White House deputy assistant secretary for public affairs on COVID-19.
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“We are evolving and adding new elements to our vaccination campaigns. More will be added in the coming weeks and months as more citizens gain access to the vaccine,” he said.
There is a nationalComponent about the evolution of the COVID-19 vaccine and why it is safe, but the bulk of the advertising on TV, print, online, and radio is aimed at different groups and their specific concerns about the vaccine.
To date, about 10% of the US population has been vaccinated. Failure to vaccinate at least 80% of people will not stop the pandemic, so it is crucial to convince the reluctant.
Much of America still has concerns. An Associated Press poll published last week found that two-thirds of Americans say they are planning or have already vaccinated, 15% say they don’t, and 17% say they probably won’t.
Of the 15% who say they won’t be vaccinated, 65% were concerned about side effects and don’t trust COVID-19 vaccines. About 38% say they don’t need the vaccines, don’t know if they work, or don’t trust the government.
About 40% of people under the age of 45 say they probably or definitely won’t get vaccinated. So far, 57% of black Americans and 65% of Hispanic Americans say they are likely or definitely to be vaccinated, compared to 68% of white Americans. Overall, the number of people open to the vaccine is increasing as more friends and family members get it.
HHS radio commercials are now broadcast on more than 2,300 iHeartRadio stations in more than 210 markets. Newspaper ads reach an audience of 80 million with an emphasis on Native Black, Hispanic, Native American, and Alaskan audiences.
Getting a message across about vaccine safety to those who need to hear is a delicate task without giving ideas to those who are already planning to vaccinate.
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“There are many people who don’t have these concerns, and if you start looking at them broadly, you can do more harm than good,” said Daniel Salmon, director of the Institute for Vaccine Safety at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
Another concern is convincing people to get vaccinated when there is still more demand than supply.
“You need to align your messages with people’s ability to actually get what you promote,” said Glen Nowak, director of the Center for Health and Risk Communications at the University of Georgia and former communications director for the National Immunization Program at the Centers for disease control and prevention.
“Otherwise you will end up with a lot of frustrated people,” he said.
As nuanced as it may be, general vaccine information would be helpful, said Dr. Kelly Moore, associate director of the nonprofit Immunization Action Coalition.
“Right now, the majority of the public doesn’t understand anything about the vaccine or how the vaccination program works. They need guidance,” she said. “For a mass immunization program of this magnitude to function properly, it is very important to educate them and explain the process so that they are ready when it is their turn.”
How states are focusing on local nooks and crannies to educate about COVID-19
Much of the communication work is currently taking place at the state level. Who is eligible to receive the vaccine depends on the governors. Some areas require advertisements in Spanish, some in Samoan, and some in Swahili. Trustworthy sources could be a local rapper, a Muslim imam, or a rodeo star. Concerns and concerns vary by region.
“Different places, different populations, different questions. It comes down to reaching every community,” said Robert Jennings, executive director of the National Public Health Information Coalition.
To get the word out, states run their own campaigns and share them with others. The Association of Immunization Managers conducts an information exchange. Texas, Ohio, and Oklahoma create ads and share them with others, sometimes for a small fee, to cover production costs.
Washington State has shared its creations with Alaska, Colorado, Idaho, Massachusetts, and North Carolina.
In October, the Ministry of Health began holding focus groups and conducting interviews to hear the questions and concerns of citizens.
“Our goal was to complete the educational portion of the campaign now, but we found that the public had so many questions left to answer that we can move on,” said Kristen Haley, the state’s campaign manager for COVID-19.
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Every possible platform was used to get the message across: TV, radio, newspapers, community newspapers, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, and TikTok in multiple languages. The budget for 2021 is $ 12.5 million.
Part of the effort is managing expectations. Sometimes that’s just simple math.
A popular social media message reads, “This is why it takes so long: 1.7 million people are eligible for Phase 1B, Level 1. Compared to about 100,000 first doses a week. Thank you for your patience!”
Washington officials have also become masters in quick turnaround ads. Two weeks ago, they heard that some vaccination clinics were crowded with people from Idaho and Oregon. Washington was vaccinated at age 65, while the other two states were over 75 years old.
Within a day they drafted new radio advertisements and broadcast them to stations near the state line.
“We were really honest,” said Haley. “Basically we were like, ‘Hey, neighbors. We wish we could help, but we can’t now.'”
Experts say communication efforts need to be nimble and adapt to changing circumstances – for example, the arrival of COVID-19 variants.
“People are probably already asking, ‘Will this vaccine protect me from these variants? How do you know? When will you know?'” Nowak said.
“You must now think about how to answer these questions. This problem will not go away.”