HHS readies vaccine confidence campaign with massive ad blitz slated for January

Half of Americans remain skeptical about COVID-19 vaccines. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) calls that group the “movable middle,” and it plans to spend $250 million to convince them otherwise.

The first phase of the campaign, already underway in December, is an online video and radio effort to prep the market. The bulk of the effort aimed at promoting vaccinations—the “Building Vaccine Confidence” campaign—will officially kick off in late January in a bid to convince people to get the vaccine when it's their turn.

The plans from HHS and the contracted Washington, D.C., consultancy Fors Marsh Group include paid and unpaid media elements. National and local TV, radio, print and social media buys will run concurrently with co-marketing partnership efforts with a variety of associations, nonprofits and corporations, including Google, with which HHS is currently in discussions.

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One of the first partnerships debuted Tuesday with the Ad Council—along with HHS and 17 other groups—launching a question-and-answer video with public health experts to lay out the basics of the vaccines and distribution for healthcare providers.

The Ad Council video leads with Anthony Fauci, M.D., director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, who says: “My primary message to healthcare professionals is please get vaccinated. It’s important to protect yourselves, to protect your family, but as important symbolically as healthcare providers to show confidence in the vaccine so that other people in this country follow suit and get vaccinated.”

It’s a likely to be a tough sell. Even HHS’ own data point to that. In pre-campaign surveys asking a wide cross-section of people whose advice they would trust to get a vaccine, HHS said half claimed they would get a vaccine if Fauci and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said to do so, while the other half said they specifically wouldn’t get a vaccine if told by Fauci and the CDC.

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Along with encouraging vaccinations, the campaign will reinforce the need to continue safety practices, including wearing masks, social distancing and washing hands often.

While the campaign doesn’t have a definitive end date, it will run for several months with message updates and changes as the vaccines roll out more and more broadly.

The strategy includes plans to “heavy-up in vulnerable communities” of people disproportionately affected by COVID-19, including people aged 65 and older; people with comorbidities; and Black, Hispanic, American Indian, Alaska Native and American Pacific Islander populations.