J&J's weekly vaccine series, with 100M views to its credit, finds success demystifying science

J&J online news series COVID-19 vaccine with Lisa Ling
Journalist Lisa Ling hosts Johnson & Johnson's online and live weekly series, now in its eighth month, that goes behind the science in the hunt for a COVID-19 vaccine. (J&J)

Even before the word “pandemic” entered daily conversation, Johnson & Johnson scientists were digging into the genetic sequence of the novel coronavirus and assessing vaccine candidates.

That was January. At the same time, J&J communications exec Seema Kumar and her team were trying to figure out how to let the world know.

The ambitious idea they came up with—a live weekly video series with multiple guests, hosted by journalist Lisa Ling—launched in April as “The Road to a Vaccine” and continues today. It airs every Tuesday at noon ET on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and JNJ.com.

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“Even though we still didn’t know where the journey would take us, the moment we began to work on a vaccine we felt we had to bring our audience along with us,” Kumar, global head of J&J’s office of innovation, global health and scientific engagement, said Friday during Fierce Pharma Marketing’s Digital Pharma Innovation Week.

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The behind-the-scenes show features J&J researchers and execs such as Chief Scientific Officer Paul Stoffels, M.D., but also spotlights public health officials like Johns Hopkins University's Tom Inglesby, M.D., and even well-known advocates like actor Laverne Cox.

While it began as an exploration of how a vaccine would be created, the show has also taken on COVID-19-related topics such as mental health, school reopenings and racial disparities.

At its core is science, Kumar said—feeding people’s hunger for knowledge, especially during the early days of the pandemic—but also demystifying the company's processes and, in doing so, increasing transparency that can help build trust.

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“People are interested in science. We just need to make it relevant and understandable and relatable,” she said. "I think we need to take science from being available to a privileged few who speak that language to making it accessible for all.”

Public engagement with the series backs that up—more than l00 million views from people in 120 countries around the world since it began. For Kumar, even more affirming are the comments and feedback from viewers who've thanked J&J for "being honest” or noted that the videos increased their trust in science.

“At the end of the day, science is about society, and society has to understand the processes of science,” she said.