The pharmacist’s voice is being elevated as part of a PSA push aimed at addressing COVID vaccine hesitancy by bolstering providers’ ability to answer patient questions.

The video content, which went live on Thursday, is the latest plank in the Ad Council and COVID Collaborative’s “It’s Up To You” COVID-19 vaccine education initiative. This particular component leverages the pharmacist’s newfound trust to take aim at the 30% of Americans who are undecided.

“People have questions, and that’s okay,” Heidi Arthur, chief campaign development officer for the Ad Council, said in response to emailed questions. “It’s Up To You” takes an empathetic approach, she explained, by working to “normalize having questions and then addressing the concerns on Americans’ minds, using a tone that is inspiring and motivating, without being forceful or instilling guilt.”

Longform provider-to-provider videos, initially released back in December, were updated to include a pharmacist perspective, a move designed to help them better handle FAQs at the drugstore counter. The video footage, which features pharmacists from Walgreens, CVS and Walmart, also figures in two new consumer-oriented spots that talk directly to the public and encourage them to visit an informational website.

Some of the common concerns they address include reasons in favor of vaccination, processes in place to ensure that vaccines are safe and effective, and precautions that should be taken post-shot.

“Health is personal, so the message and how we help patients overcome hesitancy needs to address their personal experience and situation,” said Patrick McLean, chief marketing officer for Walgreens, also by email.

The Ad Council and Group SJR provided direction on the questions addressed within the PSAs, based on the latest research on what vaccine-hesitant Americans want to know. A consumer study, recently conducted by Ipsos for the Ad Council among a nationally representative sample of vaccine-wary adults, showed that a third are more likely to get the shot if it is strongly recommended by a pharmacist. About three-quarters want additional information about the process, even if they are not yet vaccine-eligible, Ipsos found. 

“This stresses the need to get science-based information from trusted sources, like pharmacists, to consumers now, so they will have the facts they need to make an informed decision when the time comes,” noted Arthur.

Other research has shown that vaccine-hesitancy is also an issue among healthcare providers, including pharmacists. 

Even as public trust in pharmacists surged during the pandemic, the pharmacist’s voice didn’t figure especially prominently in public discourse. But now, as pharmacies become frontline administration centers, that voice is especially relevant. 

Pharmacists have become “partners in our customers’ healthcare journey,” said Cheryl Pegus, EVP, Walmart Health and Wellness, in a statement Thursday.

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“We’re amplifying their voices to provide accurate information, answer questions and reduce hesitancy as we continue to administer vaccines in a safe, convenient and inclusive manner,” stated Michelle Peluso, chief customer officer, CVS Health.

As the adult U.S. population gears up for full vaccine eligibility, McLean added that, “Walgreens pharmacists are familiar faces and trusted health resources embedded in their communities.” As such, they can supply information personalized around patients’ histories, situations and concerns. 

The three chains are founding partners of the Ad Council and COVID Collaborative’s COVID-19 Vaccine Education Initiative, meant to reach deeply into local communities through trusted messengers and institutions. 

The second round of HCP-to-HCP videos followed an initial PSA wave that tapped such clinician executives as Ernest Grant, president of the American Nurses Association; Martha Dawson, president of the National Black Nurses Association; and Elena Rios, president/CEO of the National Hispanic Medical Association. Those reels feature HCPs talking to fellow HCPs alongside Dr. Anthony Fauci. 

The consumer-oriented videos contain clips of pharmacists from the three chains addressing a range of questions. They direct viewers to learn more about the shots at GetVaccineAnswers.org, a site featuring information vetted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

The videos will be distributed via targeted, donated media placements. To date, the Ad Council’s COVID-19 response efforts have resulted in 44 billion impressions, $456 million in donated media value and more than 33 million visits to Coronavirus.gov, according to the nonprofit.

The effort is part of a multipronged communications effort to end the pandemic. The drugstore chains are each pursuing more extensive community-based efforts to address COVID-19 vaccine education. The on-the-ground efforts include marketing and outreach focused on reaching vulnerable communities, free clinics and collaboration with community-based leaders and other nonprofits.

For its part, the Biden administration is preparing a federal vaccine campaign, which will tap into the arts and entertainment communities to generate awareness and share information. Arthur said the Ad Council is coordinating with the White House, along with federal agencies like CDC and HHS. 

“While we each have our own independent programs, we will be collaborating with them in many complementary and additive ways in the days and months ahead,” she said. “This is the largest and most urgent communications effort in our nation’s history, and all sectors must come together to support critical public education efforts, ensuring that all Americans receive information about these life-saving vaccines.”