The Vaccine Mission Publication: Constructing belief, managing expectations, enjoying chess towards a wily adversary

Goal one of the Biden Administration’s COVID-19 response strategy is to “restore trust with the American people.” Goal two, closely connected to goal one, is to “mount a safe, effective, comprehensive vaccination campaign.” A vital part of that effort is a healthy stream of public education, flowing from national headwaters through state, local, tribal and community tributaries.

The mission is to engage both public and private sectors in addressing vaccine hesitancy and countering mis- and disinformation with messages “anchored by science and fact-based public health guidance.” Special attention will focus on diverse, high-risk and hard-to-reach populations, delivering information via “trusted local messengers” and simplifying the vaccination process while reinforcing basic COVID-19 prevention measures.

If you are so inclined, you can read the 200-page report, issued on the first full day of the new administration, or just the 20 pages devoted to the vaccination campaign.

We’re not from the government, and we’re here to help. The essential purpose of this newsletter, in the words of MM+M GM and editor-in-chief Steve Madden, is “to bring together some of the finest minds in communication to aid the creation of meaningful, effective work to help end the pandemic. We need messaging that convinces all people to get vaccinated, and to practice good public health habits until we’ve reached herd immunity. It will take the dedicated and focused work of everyone in this field, including you.”

Let’s get to work. Many of you are already hard at it.

This week’s edition of The Vaccine Project Newsletter is 2,771 words long and will take you nine minutes to read.

The communications effort

The pandemic has given new life and meaning to the adage, “Vaccines don’t prevent disease; vaccinations do.” The shortest distance between those two points is a straight line—a line of clear and meaningful communication.

  • MM+M’s Laura Entis shares four key questions to ask in building COVID-19 messaging. (1) Who is your audience? “Winning in vaccine confidence, specific to COVID-19, is far from one-size-fits-all,” says Elyse Margolis, president of WCG at W2O. Segmenting audiences allows for more empathetic, targeted messages.
    (2) What are their concerns? Worries, fears, and skepticism should not be dismissed out of hand. (3) Is the message factual and accessible? Avoid data overload. (4) Who is the messenger? It’s just as important as the message itself.
  • Also in the works: A national COVID-19 Vaccination Ambassadors Program designed “to highlight the stories and experiences of individuals who have received the vaccine and are working in their communities to encourage others to do the same.” To ensure consistent messaging, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is building a toolkit to support local communities in developing their own ambassador programs.
  • For the first time in 37 years, Budweiser will forego its in-game ad spot during the Super Bowl, Alison Weissbrot reports in Campaign. Budweiser has decided to “reallocate that investment to support the Ad Council and public awareness and education throughout the year for the COVID-19 vaccination effort,” calling the decision “an investment in a future where we can all get back together safely over a beer.” See the company’s “Bigger Picture” ad here.
  • The Ad Council has raised $37 million of its $50 million goal to fund a national communications campaign to increase COVID-19 vaccine confidence. Pro bono assists are coming from Pereira O’Dell, JOY Collective, Alma, BeenThereDoneThat and Dentsu Health.
  • For an in-depth look at 12 key strategies to promote COVID-19 vaccine acceptance, check out this thoughtful analysis in The New England Journal of Medicine. One strategy is to “frame vaccination as a desirable opportunity not to be missed,” appealing to the basic human instinct known as FOMO (Fear of Missing Out).
  • Launched in December, the COVID-19 Vaccine Education and Equity Project wants to increase vaccine confidence while reducing healthcare inequities. The project is spearheaded by the Alliance on Aging Research, Healthy Women, and the National Caucus and Center on Black Aging, with initial funding coming from Pfizer.
  • There is certainly work to be done on the equity front. Kaiser Health News, looking at data from 16 states, reports that Black Americans are being vaccinated against COVID-19 at significantly lower rates than whites.
  • Managers of senior living communities need a strong online presence—websites, social media and tools like Google My Business—to enhance vaccine communication,’s Annie Haarmann advises in McKnight’s Senior Living. One helpful strategy: Use the Google My Business Q&A feature to invite and post FAQs.
  • Tennessee-based Brookdale Senior Living, with more than 700 senior living and retirement communities, blogged in early December on why you should get the COVID-19 vaccine when it’s available. The post included a four-minute video featuring senior execs who also happen to be nurses. In a shorter video clip, Frank, a 92-year-old veteran, gets his shot and explains why he wanted it.
  • The leading trade associations in long-term care have developed a tip sheet of Tactics for Effectively Communicating with Staff about COVID-19 vaccine. In McKnight’s Long-Term Care News, Danielle Brown explores these success strategies, such as having staff who’ve been vaccinated share their experiences with colleagues who are apprehensive.
  • Acceptance of COVID-19 vaccine is hovering at a disappointing 40% to 50% among nursing home workers, but a facility in Connecticut has managed to vaccinate 70% of its staff and is aiming for 90%. Brown shares what works: one-on-one conversations, meetings with a geriatrician—and a culture that has emphasized prevention since the earliest days of the pandemic.
  • Home care and hospice organizations are also struggling with vaccine hesitancy among staff, Liza Berger notes in McKnight’s Senior Living. “We can’t accept 50% immunization,” said Bill Dombi, president of the National Association for Home Care and Hospice. 
  • GP’s Luke Haynes reports that physicians in Britain are being urged to use their “huge influence” to “bust” misinformation about COVID-19 vaccine and boost uptake, especially among BAME communities (Black, Asian, Minority Ethnic). Doctors are concerned that misinformation has made many of those patients reluctant to step forward.

The takeaway: Trusted. Local. Messengers.

The Vaccine Mission Publication: Constructing belief, managing expectations, enjoying chess towards a wily adversary, dermalfillerbeforeandafter
Source: Getty

The rollout

Frank Cerabino, a columnist for the Palm Beach (FL) Post, whimsically suggests that we turn Amazon delivery drivers into vaccinators and send them door-to-door. Given the alternative, perhaps this is not so whimsical after all.

  • Amazon, the nation’s second largest employer (800,000 people), is in fact offering a helping hand—and a helping van. The company and Virginia Mason Hospital just hosted a pop-up vaccination clinic at Amazon’s Seattle headquarters: 2,400 shots were given on a rather Super Sunday.
  • Google, for its part, is setting up sites and donating $150 million for vaccine education. At the same time, we’re realizing that mass vaccination is “a dance that requires a lot of complex choreography,” one that requires us to manage expectations as well as supplies.
  • The nation’s largest employer, Walmart (2.2 million people), is prepared to administer COVID-19 vaccines at Walmart and Sam’s Club pharmacies “when we are asked to do so.” EVP Dr. Cheryl Pegus adds that the company will vaccinate seven days a week at in-store clinics and large community events. 
  • Airbnb is also offering to be accommodating, suggesting that homes in its network could be used as vaccine “depots,” especially in “health care deserts” far from pharmacies and health-care facilities.
  • CVS Health and Walgreens announced on Monday that they’ve completed the first dose of vaccine at skilled nursing facilities through the Federal Pharmacy Partnership Program. Amy Novotney and Danielle Brown have details in McKnight’s Senior Living and McKnight’s Long-Term Care News.
  • Assisted living centers have waited patiently in the queue for their turn, as fewer than one in four had begun vaccinating as of a week ago, Kimberly Bonvissuto notes in McKnight’s Senior Living.
  • Meanwhile, some senior residential communities are using access to COVID-19 vaccine as a marketing tool to fill vacant units at a time when the pandemic has driven occupancy rates to record lows, Bonvissuto and Lois A. Bowers report.
  • The Vatican is vaccinating homeless people. Though some were fearful of needles or bad reactions, healthcare workers took time to describe the likely side effects and long-term benefits. Trusted local messengers Pope Francis (age 84) and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI (age 93) have received their first dose.
  • At the Life Care Center of Kirkland in Washington state, 95% of residents and 87% of staff opted for the vaccine, Danielle Brown notes in McKnight’s Long-Term Care News. Any reason why it can’t be 100%? This, you may recall, is where the first major outbreak of COVID-19 occurred in this country. Where 46 people died.
  • In the U.K., 60% of people over age 80 have received their first vaccine dose, according to GP’s Nick Bostock. The country expects to vaccinate everyone over age 70 by the middle of February and the entire adult population by September. 
  • Here’s the latest “weather report” from the CDC COVID Data Tracker: 41.4 million doses distributed and 22.7 million vaccinations given, including 3.3 million second doses as of Monday. Slow progress but progress nonetheless.

The takeaway: Being vaccinated is getting an extra present for Christmas, Hanukkah or Kwanzaa. Waiting to be vaccinated is Festivus for the rest of us.

The Vaccine Mission Publication: Constructing belief, managing expectations, enjoying chess towards a wily adversary, dermalfillerbeforeandafter
Source: Getty

The challenges

Nothing is simple, least of all a massive vaccination campaign. Gotta work through the pain. Need more reps.

  • Private practitioners are feeling left out of the first wave of people being vaccinated, despite being on the frontlines of care. Lina Zeldovich shares their lament in Medical Bag.
  • The British Medical Association is questioning the logic of opening mass vaccination centers, as it has forced local primary care clinics to vaccinate at “well below” maximum capacity. Nick Bostock and Luke Haynes have the story in GP.
  • Primary care docs want to be in the loop when patients go to pharmacies and retail clinics for their shots. The American College of Physicians is asking retail vaccinators to “coordinate, communicate, and collaborate with the patient’s primary care team to ensure patient safety and continuity of care.” And if the patient doesn’t have a primary care doc (hint, hint), vaccination is a timely opportunity to make a referral.
  • A hospital in Los Gatos, CA is being investigated after offering COVID-19 vaccine to local teachers ahead of other priority groups. One educator called it “terrible optics.” 
  • In Florida, where everyone 65 and older is now vaccine-eligible, the government has put an end to a brief period of “medical tourism” by limiting vaccination to people with proof of residence. Snowbirds with proper documentation have wings to fly to the nearest vaccination center, but the status of migrant workers, the homeless and undocumented immigrants is up in the air.
  • Residency is a sticky issue. New Hampshire just reversed a policy that allowed out-of-staters who own property there to get vaccinated—now it’s residents-only. At Holy Name Medical Center in Teaneck, the early epicenter of the pandemic in Northern New Jersey, living in the state or even the same county isn’t good enough. Until supplies open up, shots right now are for “Teaneck residents only.”

The takeaway: “There is some good news in the seeming chaos of the scrum for shots,” says MM+M GM and editor-in-chief Steve Madden. “People want it.”

The Vaccine Mission Publication: Constructing belief, managing expectations, enjoying chess towards a wily adversary, dermalfillerbeforeandafter
Source: Getty

The vaccine dashboard

We now find ourselves in the middle of a high-stakes global chess match: vaccines versus variants. We need to stay one move ahead.

  • Pfizer and Moderna are confident that they can adapt their vaccines as needed to fend off the challenges posed by the new, more ominous strains of the virus arising in, and spreading from, Britain, South Africa and Brazil. In MPR, and McKnight’s Long-Term Care News, Diana Ernst and Alicia Lasek report that both Moderna and Pfizer are testing booster shots against the variants.
  • Here comes COVID-19 vaccine number three in the U.S.: The Food and Drug Administration could begin reviewing data for the Johnson & Johnson single-dose vaccine in the next couple of weeks. J&J expects to receive emergency use authorization by early March and to have 100 million doses available by April.
  • Meanwhile, Merck is discontinuing development of its two COVID-19 vaccines, following disappointing results in early trials, and will focus instead on moving new treatments for the virus through the pipeline. Brian Park shares the news in MPR.
  • The second dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines can be given up to six weeks after the first, instead of three or four weeks later, the CDC has advised. In MPR, Diana Ernst notes that it’s still preferable to get dose two as close as possible to the recommended interval—three weeks for the Pfizer vaccine, four weeks for the Moderna one.
  • The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are not interchangeable, but the CDC says it’s okay to give either one for dose two in “exceptional situations”—that is, if the vaccine product given at dose one is unknown or not available.
  • Israel offers a study in contrasts, with the world’s highest vaccination rate but also one of the highest infection rates. Police are clashing with anti-vaccine protestors in ultra-Orthodox communities, which represent just over 10% of the population but a third of all cases.
  • Despite the tumult in Israel, its aggressive vaccination campaign is one of the reasons for a recent 60% drop in COVID-19 hospitalizations. Alicia Lasek has more in McKnight’s Long-Term Care News.
  • The U.S. does not have a monopoly on vaccine supply headaches. In the 27-country European Union, delays in manufacturing will result in millions of fewer doses than expected during Q1.
  • Switzerland—not a member of the EU—just approved Moderna’s vaccine and snapped up 7.5 million doses. The country also has agreements with Pfizer and AstraZeneca and will receive more doses through the global COVAX initiative. When it comes to vaccination, the Swiss are anything but neutral.
  • Brazil, with the world’s second highest coronavirus death toll (215,000), started its vaccination initiative with the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine and the Sinovac vaccine made in China. Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, who fell ill with COVID-19 last year and has been widely accused of mismanaging the pandemic, insists that he will not be vaccinated.
  • COVAX, the global vaccine collaboration spawned by the pandemic, expects to distribute up to two billion doses this year, more than half of them going to 92 poorer countries. The U.S., in re-upping with the World Health Organization, will also join most of the rest of the world in supporting COVAX.
  • Clinical trials of the Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech vaccines are under way in adolescents as young as 12. That’s the next step in extending the reach of protection and generating herd immunity. Right now the Moderna vaccine is for those 18 and older; for Pfizer, it’s 16 and up.
  • Here’s one from the close scrutiny of every adverse event department: Three patients who have cosmetic dermal fillers experienced mild facial swelling after receiving the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine. Just three, mind you, but enough for the American Society of Dermatologic Surgery to issue guidelines for future reference. Heidi W. Moore gathers expert insights on the topic in Dermatology Advisor. 

The takeaway: As Merck’s experience dramatically demonstrates, creating new vaccines is anything but a sure bet. Which makes the successes all the more remarkable.

The resources

Think about how much we’ve learned about this thing called “coronavirus” in the past year – and we’ve only just begun.

  • The CDC webpage Talking to Recipients About COVID-19 Vaccines emphasizes the clinician’s pivotal role as a trusted source of vaccine information. Handouts explain mRNA technology and answer the questions patients are most likely to pose.
  • The Ad Council and COVID Collaborative launched their vaccine confidence campaign late in December with a series of videos addressed to healthcare professionals. So far, the Council’s efforts have led to 38.9 billion impressions, $424.7 million in donated media value and 31.8 million visits to
  • How do families handle the inevitable situation where some members are getting vaccinated and others are not? The Vaccine Education Center at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia has a helpful summary of what to know and what to do.
  • “A Local Leader’s Guide to Pandemic Management and Communications” comes from the National Organizing Coalition on Virus Information Distribution (NOCOVID), an organization started by political consultants James Carville and Mary Matalin.

… and some songs

Undivided, Tim McGraw and Tyler Hubbard

The Age of Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In, The Fifth Dimension

Our Day Will Come, Ruby and the Romantics

I’m So Excited, Pointer Sisters

Epiphany, Taylor Swift

Another busy week. We’re on it, so tune in tomorrow for your Haymarket Media Coronavirus Briefing newsletter. Stay well. And please mask up, both for those you love and for the rest of us.

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