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The White House will launch a major vaccine confidence campaign

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W.ASHINGTON – The White House is about to launch a wide-ranging public relations campaign aimed at building trust and acceptance of vaccines in the US, Biden administration officials told STAT.

This television, radio, and digital commercial flash, slated to begin in a few weeks’ time, will focus on Americans who are completely skeptical about the safety or effectiveness of vaccines, as well as those who may be more ready to get a Covid-19 vaccination to strive for, but do not yet know where, when or how. Specifically, the campaign is aimed at three groups in which access, apathy or total skepticism can be an obstacle to vaccinations: young people, people of color and conservatives, according to a Biden advisor. Congress and government have allocated over $ 1.5 billion for this.

The efforts highlight a looming and underrated public health challenge: Although millions of Americans are currently calling for a Covid-19 vaccine, the opposite may be the case in a matter of months or even weeks. Instead of bothering about making cans, the government could soon try to find weapons ready to receive them.

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While the government’s Covid Response Advisors who are organizing the effort are largely optimistic, they and many public health experts fear that the effort may fail to achieve its goal of gaining the approval of a critical, final demographic: the country’s coronavirus, effective to end crisis.

“I worry about the 15% of Americans who say they won’t take the vaccine,” said Sten Vermund, dean of the Yale School of Public Health. “And about 8% or 9% of Americans say, ‘I’ll take it if they make me do it, if my job makes me do it.’ That’s about 23% or 24%, and that’s flirting with the level we need to get herd immunity. “

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The rollout fulfills one of Biden’s first promises in office. He promised on January 21st that he would launch an “unprecedented public health vaccination campaign” aimed at convincing every American adult to seek Covid-19 vaccination.

As for the specific content, administrative officials said they are aware that appeals directly from President Biden or Anthony Fauci are unlikely to affect vaccine-reluctant people. As a result, they are expected to recruit both celebrities and trusted local officials to help advance the message for the vaccine.

Dorit Reiss, a law professor at the University of California, Hastings whose research focuses on vaccine policy and ethics, explained why Biden and his lieutenants may not always be best placed to get the word out.

“Biden government news may not be where conservative communities would look for guidance,” she said. “There are community leaders you want to get on board, and it might be better that the federal government instead fund a multitude of willing community leaders reaching out to these communities.

Up to this point, the plan puts a focus on community-level communication: federal officials have already allocated more than $ 500 million to local efforts to recruit local leaders and community organizations to promote vaccine uptake and racial justice in distribution of vaccines to ensure.

At the national level, White House officials declined to share details about how many of the ads will look, or specifically whose voices they will highlight. But in a touch of strategy, senior government officials have already been dispatched to get the word out. Vice President Kamala Harris, the first black and South Asian woman elected to the White House, has spent much of the past three weeks conducting face-to-face contact, television appearances, and radio interviews, in many cases specifically aimed at promoting vaccine uptake in black communities .

Americans’ belief that current vaccines are safe and effective could mean the difference between a country with widespread immunity and a country where the disease is spreading, albeit more slowly, according to experts.

It is already clear that the White House is not pursuing a one-message-fits-all strategy. Marcella Nunez-Smith, the Yale doctor and researcher who advises Biden on health equity, appeared last month on The Shade Room, an online outlet for black viewers, and Anthony Fauci, the leading government researcher on infectious diseases, conducted interviews with several Spanish-language news and entertainment outlets.

The administration even has provided Francis Collins, longtime director of the National Institutes of Health, addresses one of the demographics most likely to oppose a Covid-19 vaccination according to initial polls: white, conservative, evangelical Christians. (According to a recent Marist poll, the top three vaccine-reluctant supporters of former President Donald Trump, Republicans and White Evangelical Christians, are 47%, 41% and 38% likely, respectively, to reject a vaccine.)

Collins himself, a devout Christian, described the vaccines as a gift from God in an interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network, stressing that the Catholic Church endorses the use of Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine, even though it uses a cell line derived from an abortion Procedure decades ago.

The White House announcement of the PR blitz will come just days after it decreed that by May 1, all state and local governments must authorize all American adults to register for vaccine appointments. The US currently administers over 2 million doses daily. Just over 10% of the population are fully vaccinated and around 20% have received at least one dose of vaccine.

But even as the vaccine rollout continues, some experts have feared that there is no time to waste in the PR campaign.

“I think President Biden is right that by May there will be enough vaccines for anyone who wants them, and we will look around for people who don’t,” Reiss said. “I don’t think we can wait. It’s not that long. ”

Over the past few weeks, White House staff including Nunez-Smith and Cameron Webb, another doctor who advises Biden’s response to the pandemic on equity issues, have been sharing the plan with the Department of Health and Human Services, the Centers for Control and disease prevention and local community leaders discussed.

“I’ve held round tables with major constituencies to make sure we’re getting this effort right,” Nunez-Smith said during a press conference last week. “We build relationships with trusted messengers across the country to ensure they have the best possible information to share with their communities.”

Congress and administration have pledged extensive funds for this.

Much of the funding for the project comes from the sweeping $ 1.9 trillion Covid-19 relief bill that Biden signed last week.

The government has also already committed over $ 500 million in additional funding to improve vaccine uptake, health literacy and equity distribution, including $ 250 million to fund local health literacy projects and an additional $ 255 million for the CDC to fund local government efforts to focus on justice and trust in underserved communities.

After taking power in January, the government also inherited a third stream of funding for Covid-19 containment and prevention: a $ 250 million contract the Trump administration signed months ago with Virginia-based public relations firm Fors Marsh . This campaign, which began under President Trump and continued under the Biden administration, has helped fund Spanish-language radio commercials, advertisements in newspapers serving the black community, and other efforts to contain Covid-19.

Combined, federal efforts to promote vaccine uptake total nearly $ 2 billion.

The Biden administration is also supported by the nonprofit world. It is working with the Ad Council, a nonprofit agency that worked with the government on PSAs to reduce drug and tobacco use, on a $ 50 million campaign to sell Americans the safety and effectiveness of vaccines. The Creative Coalition, another not-for-profit organization, has also chosen a collection of celebrities, business executives, and prominent public health figures to run their own vaccine campaign.

These campaigns have largely relied on the same strategies suggested by Biden aides. Much of the Ad Council’s early efforts, consisting of TV advertising, radio and print advertising, and digital messaging, stayed away from celebrities but focused on black and Spanish-speaking communities.

At a virtual kick-off dinner for the Creative Coalition’s campaign, Rochelle Walensky, director of the CDC, said she would try to “use the power of influencers to build trust in vaccines.” Fauci called celebrities’ ability to build trust in vaccines “exceptional.”

However, given the latest data, public health experts and Biden officials acknowledge that messages to white conservatives – in other words, those least likely to see the new government as credible – are the biggest hurdle to real population-wide immunity could represent.

“When Magic Johnson said, ‘I have HIV, I have been tested, and I will protect my family, I will take antiretroviral drugs,’ we saw the rate of HIV testing rise the day after his announcement,” said Vermund, dean for Yale public health advising the Creative Coalition efforts. “It could be that Donald Trump is a celebrity and says, ‘I have the vaccine, I feel great.’ It may take a different kind of celebrity to reach out to the conspirators and anti-Vax people who are militant in this area. ”(On Sunday, Fauci asked Trump to encourage his supporters to get vaccinated and named such a message a potential “game changer”.)

However, the messaging and public health experts behind the federal campaign and both charitable endeavors have recognized that their initiatives harbor an inherent barrier: regardless of which community they target, a quick word from a celebrity or politician is unlikely to make them are effective. his own.

Part of the Creative Coalition’s mission, said the group’s CEO Robin Bronk, is to recognize the ineffectiveness of simply skydiving in communities for a one-off cameo – a message they believe community and federal efforts are in the back of their minds should keep.

“We call it ‘red carpet bagging,’ which means that if you blow something in and out for something, it’s not authentic and it will do more damage to the problem,” said Bronk. “Sometimes we don’t get involved in problems, especially because involving the Hollywood community would do more harm than good. It’s not just about poking a celebrity – we have to be thoughtful. “

Correction: This story has been updated to reflect that the Biden administration will not reveal the PR campaign this week.

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