US government releases a COVID booster campaign as 'urgent message' for those Black, Hispanic communities, most at-risk

Pfizer and Moderna have launched their COVID-19 booster campaigns this fall and now so too has the U.S. government, though it has a specific focus on getting through to Black and Hispanic communities with a series of new TV and radio ads.

The “On Point” 30-second TV spot, released and paid for by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), debuted on Monday, Oct. 24, and is specifically aimed at Black audiences.

A Black actor narrates that he is “Always on point,” with his hair, his style and his yard, but goes on to say that “I can’t be at my best if my health is lacking.He adds that the omicron variant is still putting people in hospital, so: “I got my updated COVID vaccine [….] I stay up to date so I can stay on point for the ones I love.”

The ad does not mention any COVID boosters by name or the companies that make them, but the FDA has authorized two mRNA COVID vaccines updated for omicron from Moderna and Pfizer. Both companies have also in the past month run their own campaigns to plug their updated boosters, while Moderna also added a new sponsorship of the U.S. Open.

A second ad, also funded by the HHS, is a Spanish-language and soccer-themed commercial titled “No te pierdas el juego," and it also started airing this Monday.

An English version of the ad, the title of which translates to “Don’t Miss the Game,” is scheduled for release next month during the FIFA World Cup and focuses on how people are missing out on sports and social events because of COVID but that that could be avoided by getting boosted.

The HHS is also tapping the airwaves, releasing in addition to the TV commercials two new radio ads. These are targeting rural communities with a football-themed ad called “Can’t-Miss Moments” and a country music-themed ad called “Feel Good Country.”

News of the ads were first reported on CNN. “The new television ads send an urgent message to communities at high-risk of severe illness from COVID that the updated vaccine is the best tool we have against hospitalization and death,” Sarah Lovenheim, HHS assistant secretary for public affairs, told CNN.

“These ads also reflect our commitment to equity in our COVID response and the need to redouble efforts to reach Black and Hispanic communities about the benefits of the updated vaccines. We have seen COVID infections increase in prior winters, and it does not have to be that way this year. We now have updated COVID-19 vaccines to protect you against the Omicron strain.”

These ads come amid sluggish COVID booster uptakes in September, where just 4.4 million got their booster shots, though the rate has picked up. From October 6, when the CDC last updated its data, that number had jumped to 11.5 million.

But there are still problems in getting the message out. A month ago, a Kaiser Family Foundation poll found half of those surveyed had either heard little or nothing about the new bivalent COVID-19 boosters from Moderna and Pfizer. The HHS will hope to rectify this with its new ads.