Calling all doctors, local politicians, clergy, social media influencers, and others with influence in your communities: please become public advocates of vaccines. Right now.
Also, call all local journalists: please step up the advocacy of your neighbors and add some of your own. This is a time when you should go beyond the norms of your craft. You can’t be neutral and still claim you’ve done your job – not on this subject, not now.
Why do we need local celebrities and influencers to take on this role? After all, Americans have already had more than 324 million doses injected into their arms. In the coming months, all Americans who want to be vaccinated against COVID will be vaccinated.
In the US, however, there has been a significant decrease in daily vaccinations as infections via the “Delta” variant, which is about twice as contagious as the original coronavirus, have increased at an alarming rate. And even if everyone who wants to get vaccinated gets their vaccination, a shockingly large number of Americans remain defenseless – up to 25 percent of the population. This is essentially bad news, not least because the larger the pool of unprotected people in the U.S. and abroad, the greater the likelihood that the coronavirus and its variants will mutate into even worse strains.
Vaccination hesitation got an unfortunate boost earlier this spring after the government temporarily suspended vaccination with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine while experts examined extremely rare blood clots. Meanwhile, we are threatened by a sustained flurry of anti-vaccine lies and contextless horror journalism.
Which, in turn, means that society must pull out all the stops to convince “vaccine reluctants” – people who either refuse or hesitate to get vaccinated – to do the right thing. Among those who might be best able to help are celebrities, and not just those you see People Magazine or TMZ.
Unfortunately, some of these high profile celebrities (you’ve heard their names, but we’re not going to repeat them here) misrepresented proven scientific and public health information as part of a year-long campaign against vaccinating children against common childhood diseases. . One result has been an increase in measles cases across the country. Some of these anti-vaccine celebrities have entered the coronavirus world with equally misguided “advice” during our current deadly pandemic.
Their malicious influence has been countered to some extent by public health messages, including help from great celebrities – thank you, Dolly Parton and Morgan Freeman, among others – who did a good job spreading the word for vaccines. These people can outnumber anti-vaccine celebrities. But they were in a reactive mode most of the time, and the stories they tell to explain why vaccines are so important weren’t as compelling narratives as the deftly told lies of the anti-vaccination forces.
Meanwhile, less attention is paid to a group we could call local and minor celebrities, in part because they don’t provide enticing media clickbaits. We need them more than ever and there is already evidence that they play an important role.
Here are some examples of their great work:
- In Philadelphia, the Black Doctors COVID-19 Consortium has worked tirelessly to convince people of color – who are among the worst hit by the virus and have long had trust issues with large drugs – and just passed 25,000 vaccinations in a month.
- While it is great that Pope Francis advocated that Catholics get their vaccination, ultimately, it could be even more important that local clergy of many faiths encourage their communities – especially those who are doubters – to get vaccinated.
- Oregon social media influencers work with the state health department and a marketing firm to convince their followers to get vaccinated.
We need this type of activity everywhere, in every physical and virtual community. We also need a better understanding of how it works.
When it comes to the effectiveness of the provocative messages of local celebrities, we need to examine in an interdisciplinary manner (a) how different messages affect the intended audiences, ie whether they respond with more positive views about vaccinations; (b) whether vaccination rates are improving in the reluctant people; (c) which demographics respond most positively (and why); (d) how we can scale these efforts; and more. Not only will we increase vaccination rates, but we will also learn more about trust systems in our local media.
THE ROLE OF THE NEWS MEDIA
Above all, we need the help of a central, albeit financially threatened, institution in our society: local media, especially local news organizations. Many are already doing their part. “We ask you to get vaccinated.” said Pennsylvania Lancaster County News, in an editorial: “We believe you have an ethical duty to do so. And we’re not the only ones who believe that. “
The vaccination campaign needs journalistic help in a way that could call into question some long-held assumptions in the craft.
Journalists, even local celebrities, are trained to be “objective” – a notion that has widespread support but unfortunately often results in stories being published or broadcast with absurdly out of balance. There is a legitimate side to this problem.
First, they should highlight the science – especially the overwhelming evidence of the effectiveness and safety of the vaccines already approved – and the dangers of not vaccinating the vast majority of people. Yes, cover cases of bad reactions but do so in the full context and show the overwhelmingly positive result of widespread vaccination.
Second, they should highlight the efforts of the local celebrities mentioned above and do so consistently. Help the audience understand that their own friends and neighbors are doing what’s right for themselves and their communities. In its exemplary editorial, the Lancaster news site cited exactly such posts from notable members of the community.
Third, even at a time when journalism as a whole has been targeted by people who seek to discredit the craft, some local journalists retain tremendous credibility with people of all political leanings. TV news anchors and weather forecasts, for example, can make a big difference in promoting vaccines.
None of this is going to make a difference if a large group of people who lag behind vaccinations – white male Republicans – continue to shy away from science and reality. The people who are most likely to convince them are the politicians who promoted the coronavirus mythology and the big lie about the 2020 presidential election.
In the end, we need broad and deep participation. If you are one of the people who can help, please do it. Whoever you are – celebrity or not – get vaccinated and take a selfie at the vaccination center. Send it to everyone you know, including local news anchors, and post on social media. Your example could be a lifesaver.
This is an opinion and analysis article; the views of the views Author or authors are not necessarily those of Scientific American.