There’s a sad trend-within-the-trend of surging COVID-19 infections. Some vaccine holdouts are having a change of heart — but it’s when they’re literally at death’s door, too late for vaccination to make a difference. 

It’s these kinds of cases, organizers of one pro-vaccination campaign said, that are driving a renewed push to get patients to weigh the pros and cons, and to do so before a possible hospital admission.

Face2Face America, which launched in April and is being spearheaded by a consortium of pharma marketers, has netted over $1.6 million in donated media inventory from a range of media partners, from consumer and HCP digital to point-of-care to pharmacy. The twelfth such partner, Healio, signed on this month. 

Collectively, the effort has yielded over 130 million digital ad impressions. CMI Media Group joined the effort in May to activate additional endemic media suppliers. Dramatic Health quarterbacked a black-and-white interview video series, which was expanded to include interviews of frontline HCPs. And Fishawack Health signed on to design most of the video and interactive ads. 

As summer brings a slew of university vaccine mandates and the return of masking policies at many schools, F2F organizers say they’re honing in on the college-aged crowd. Here are five takeaways from its latest push.

As the virus adapts, so must the messaging: With infections on the rise again thanks to the Delta variant and only about half the country fully immunized, public health experts tell us this is largely an outbreak among the unvaccinated. The F2F communicators resisted the urge to merely double down on existing efforts. 

“The nature of our approach from the beginning has been about understanding the situation as it evolves, knowing it would be changing day to day and week to week,” said Marc Benjamin, CEO of Convergence Point Media and one of the founders of F2F.

Phase one involved the “getting back to normal” educational message and use of community voices, including HCPs, in video testimonials. Now, F2F is focusing on geographic areas where vaccine rates are lagging most and is shifting gears to interview more college students. 

Young adults aged 18 to 25, who are significantly behind in vaccination as a group, “are at the center of the opportunity to cross the threshold,” Benjamin said.

F2F is partnering with the Covid Campus Coalition to lend content and distribution support in order to amplify the coalition’s existing efforts countering vaccine misinformation, including using TikTok and Instagram. Organizers are planning a new series of video testimonials focused on college communities, where there’s been pushback on requirements to show proof of vaccination. 

Benjamin said he hopes the stories from seriously ill patients will resonate with young adults, especially the message that vaccinations protect against most serious disease, hospitalizations and deaths, even as the Delta variant spreads. 

“Right now there’s an opportunity to reach this age group, who themselves are going back to college, with the message that ‘Now is the time. If you’ve been putting it off, been too busy with summer plans, or just didn’t think it mattered because you’re young and healthy, get it right now.’”

North Carolina physician Dr. Anita Jackson models an approach to answering questions about the vaccine in an HCP-facing ad from the F2F campaign. 

There’s “lots of space to make a difference”: Segmenting messaging toward the unvaccinated is another way the F2F group is reorienting its efforts. There’s a much clearer understanding of how to do that.

People aren’t just talking about the unvaccinated as one homogenous group, but they’re starting to appreciate that there’s a significant difference between the vaccine-hesitant and the vaccine-resistant, noted Dale Cooke, of PhillyCooke Consulting, another coalition member. 

“There are a lot of people out there who are persuadable, if we can get the right message to them,” Cooke stressed. He added that this was not a concept that drove messaging strategy three months ago, at least not in a massive way. 

“The ‘hard no’s,’ as you would expect, are still ‘hard no’s,’” he continued. “The good news is we have learned we can get to goal without the ‘hard no’s’ if we can convince other groups who have other reasons, whether it’s their perception about cost or safety or matters of trust and who the messenger is. There’s a lot of space to make a difference.”

Employ trusted voices, leverage storytelling: F2F’s content includes diverse representation, like Dr. Anita Jackson, medical director for North Carolina’s Durham County Public Health and a trusted voice within the Black community. With the campaign employing more speakers who can appeal directly to the wait-and-see crowd, Jackson is also on the frontline of dealing with hesitancy.

“The first thing I would do [when talking with a wait-and-see person], is to ask you, ‘What were your concerns about the vaccine?’” she explained in one HCP-facing ad. “Then I would share a couple personal experiences with you. For instance, there are people who would still be here had they had the vaccine.”

Through its network of display screens in physician offices, PatientPoint is running the ad with Dr. Jackson to model how she has addressed the hesitant, especially younger people, in her community. Videos of other speakers have been rendered in various digital ad formats: Mesmerize is showing unique iterations of the spots in community pharmacies and clinics mostly located in rural and urban areas. 

“If a person is seeing that message when they’re in the pharmacy, we hope that it will lead to a conversation,” said Benjamin. “Presumably they’re not there for the vaccine, but we can engage them at that time.”

F2F also entered into a partnership with the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases, which added F2F’s video series, developed from Dramatic Health’s docu-style interviews, to populate the COVID section of the foundation’s “Real Stories, Real People.” 

Work both sides of the conversation: F2F organizers are running the initiative like a typical pharma campaign. Just as they would do for a brand or disease education effort, Benjamin said, “We are working both sides of the conversation.”

In pharma, nothing happens without the consent of the doctor, because a prescription is required. For COVID and vaccines, where the blessing of the doctor is an important facet in persuading people to receive the shot, the same thinking holds. 

The educational push and call to action are designed to spark more conversations between patients and providers. In addition to professional media like Medpage Today and MDedge, F2F counts consumer online media like Healthline and Sharecare among its partners. 

Point-of-care media disseminate consumer-facing appeals in waiting room displays in tens of thousands of medical practices. developed integrated ad units that feature a multi-video carousel and tabbed content featuring links to information resources, vaccination centers and FAQs.

“”We’re very pleased by the coverage by these channels where doctors and patients come together,” said Benjamin. “One consistent thread we see in research is that hearing from HCPs is one of the most effective ways for an undecided person to change their mind when it comes to vaccine hesitancy.”

Don’t rest until the job is done: F2F debuted around the time the country passed the tipping point of having more vaccine supply than demand. With the national reopening coming to a halt in some areas, not to mention various parts of the country seeing their worst outbreaks yet, the group believes that its work remains as vital now as it was in its infancy. 

Recent headlines notwithstanding, Benjamin remains optimistic. “Vaccination rates have started to tick up again after being stubbornly on the decline,” he noted. “So there is some awareness, including within some of the most dug-in, hesitant states, that vaccination is the right thing to do.”

That alone provides plenty of encouragement for the months ahead. “Right now, we don’t have any visibility on when we could cross the threshold so that we can reverse this negative tide,” Benjamin continued. “Originally we asked our media partners for a month or two. Some extend to year-end already. My expectations have evolved toward expecting that we will be able to sustain and grow our presence for as long as we need to until the job is done.”
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