Novavax taps breakout star of TV show to spread COVID-19 vaccine choice message

Novavax is throwing marketing muscle behind its bid to capture a piece of the fall COVID-19 booster vaccine market. Having seen mRNA vaccines dominate the market, the biotech wants the public to know there is an alternative to Moderna and Pfizer—and has tapped Nicole Ari Parker to spread that message. 

Maryland-based Novavax largely missed out on the COVID-19 vaccine gold rush, leading to pressures that threatened to sink the company. Outside investment steadied the ship, and Novavax received emergency use authorization for the updated XBB version of its COVID-19 vaccine last week, positioning it to provide a protein-based alternative to the dominant mRNA shots.

Novavax must overcome two challenges to turn the vaccine into a commercial success. First, the biotech needs as many people as possible in the U.S. to get vaccinated in a season in which Pfizer expects a 24% vaccination rate. Second, it needs to persuade people to choose its vaccine over the mRNA shots.

Those twin challenges informed Novavax’s "Choose to Protect" campaign. Silvia Taylor, chief corporate affairs and advocacy officer for Novavax, outlined how the name of the campaign tackles the challenges. 

“Choose to Protect is this idea of choice being empowering,” Taylor said, “We want to make sure that … fatigue doesn't turn into hesitancy. It's really important that there's a protein-based option. People have a choice. Why is it important? Our research shows that when people feel like they have a choice, they are more likely to take action. You have a choice in how you choose to protect yourself.” 

Novavax has enlisted Parker, a Black actor who The Washington Post called the breakout star of the "Sex and the City" sequel "And Just Like That …," to front the campaign. Taylor outlined why Novavax sees Parker as the perfect person to lead its campaign. 

“We know that people want to get information from trusted voices they admire. Many times, it's people that they see online, people who look like them, sound like them, and have a platform to say something important. Nicole certainly has that platform. She's a mother, and she's a daughter. She's a caregiver for her parents who are in their 80s,” Taylor said.

Parker has made a two-minute video for the Choose to Protect campaign. Sat alone, Parker, at times looking directly into the camera, discusses her experience when the COVID-19 crisis began and how she and her family approach their health and the risks posed by the virus. 

“Staying informed about public health issues like COVID is crucial to making smart decisions to keep my family safe,” Parker said. “So we gather around the table at dinner, we talk, we share our concerns and, most importantly, we listen. And you know what, our first step was to get informed about our vaccine options to help protect our family. Then we all got vaccinated.”

Novavax has done its homework on the demographic it hopes Parker can help unlock. Working with The Harris Poll and Healthy Women, the biotech collected views from women aged 45 to 64 years, reflecting its identification of that demographic as decision-makers. The survey found most people think having a range of vaccines is important. Novavax is now set to find out how many people will choose its vaccine.