Recent analyses suggest COVID-19 vaccination rates are about to plateau, with the most vaccine-avid adults likely to have received their first dose by month’s end. As supply starts to eclipse demand in various parts of the country, that shift is happening long before herd immunity has been reached.
This means marketers need to work extra hard to convince vaccine holdouts. A consortium of healthcare communications leaders and specialists aims to do its part via an educational push and call to action that began this past Monday – the day all Americans over age 16 became eligible for the vaccine – with a soft launch on social media.
“Throughout the pandemic, a lot of people have stepped up to do heroic things. It struck me that this was our moment,” said Marc Benjamin, CEO of Convergence Point Media and one of the founders of the effort, dubbed Face2Face America. “We felt that there is an opportunity for us to use our professional skills to augment and enhance efforts to educate, motivate, inform and inspire those who are still hesitant.”
In addition to education, the group is calling on other members of the healthcare communications industry to lend their support and expertise, whether in media, creative or otherwise. (Anyone interested in pitching in can sign up at the group’s website.)
Current members of the coalition include Convergence Point, Mint Collective, Dramatic Heath and Fishawack Health. Organizers have also lined up a range of spokespeople, from multicultural marketing specialist Asten Morgan, Jr., and vaccine commercialization expert Jeremy Gowler of Sandoz to physician KOLs Drs. Anita Jackson and Telva Olivares, who are trusted voices within the Black and Latino communities, respectively.
The campaign is set to formally roll out on Monday. The group is especially keen on enlisting more endemic health media networks as distribution partners, along with creators and influencers, to help spread and amplify its message.
“We’re starting to hit that area where combating vaccine hesitancy is essential,” said Dale Cooke, of PhillyCooke Consulting, another coalition member. ”Everybody has to do their part to chip in [on] an all-of-nation effort.”
Indeed, the effort coincides with a Wednesday report from the Kaiser Family Foundation estimating that, across the U.S., a “tipping point on vaccine enthusiasm” is likely to arrive soon. In other words, for the first time, supply of COVID shots is about to outstrip demand.
Here’s the math: 61% of U.S. adults say they have already been vaccinated or want to be as soon as a vaccine is made available to them, KFF polling shows. That’s a level which the foundation calls the “enthusiasm limit.” According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 26% of the population (or 86 million people) have been fully vaccinated against COVID – 133 million if you count those who’ve received at least one dose (or 50.7% of all adults). This leaves 27 million adults to go before we hit up against the aforementioned limit. By KFF’s reckoning, we could reach it in as little as two weeks, at a rate of 1.7 million shots per day.
“Once this happens, efforts to encourage vaccination will become much harder, presenting a challenge to reaching the levels of herd immunity that are expected to be needed,” the report notes.
The pace may then slow and, according to a similar projection on the supply-demand reversal released earlier this month by Surgo Ventures, only around 52% of Americans will be fully vaccinated by July. Factoring in people who have already been infected, the immunity rate overall may be around 65% by then – still falling short of the 70% to 90% threshold for herd immunity.
The challenge now involves convincing the roughly one-fifth of adults who consistently say they won’t get vaccinated, or will only do so if mandated. And that’s where the F2F organizers believe they can help.
Education takes the form of a series of video testimonials shot in the style of cinéma vérité. The first of these, “Emily’s Story,” features a first-generation, Columbian-American woman who said her hesitancy began even before the shot was developed. “‘Do I want to be a guinea pig?’” was a fear that loomed large during that process, she shares.
Ultimately, she confronted some of those doubts. “A lot of people are freaking out about, ‘I don’t want to take a vaccine that was developed so quickly.’ Have you considered that maybe this is what could happen if scientists are given all the resources that they need?’” she posits. “The entire world came together.”
The story and a sizzle reel, appearing on F2F’s YouTube, Facebook and Twitter channels, will soon be joined by similar heartfelt testimonials from people in the three groups that are most hesitant to receive the COVID-19 vaccine: Black, Latino and politically conservative Americans.
“As professionals in health and medical communications, we believe that compelling stories from those who had questions, found answers and stepped up to get vaccinated will spark life-saving conversations about the safety, efficacy and urgency of the vaccines in communities across the country,” Benjamin said.
Supplementary social-media content augments the videos with resources, shareable clips and viral-ready memes. Serious about the need to entertain as they inform, the group says a music video is also in the offing.
The F2F effort seeks to complement existing vaccine campaigns by the Ad Council and CDC, as well as the White House’s recent media blitz promoting eligibility for those 16 and up, Benjamin said, by “augmenting existing efforts based on the access we have to these channels, and to the insights we have with respect to how we communicate about health.”
It’s as much about storytelling from community members and family doctors as it is about “focusing on what we are all missing out on and what we can all come back to,” he explained. “Many have lost loved ones, jobs and businesses. We’ve all lost togetherness. We want to be face-to-face again with those we love and to return to things that are important to us.”