Should Star Athletes and Other Influencers Have Early Access to the COVID-19 Vaccine?

It’s an interesting question posed by reporters Louise Radnofsky and Ben Cohen in a story they have written for the Wall Street Journal.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s distribution playbook deems communication efforts essential but doesn’t prescribe how they should be handled. A spokeswoman for California’s public health department said: “We have not yet made a determination about whether or not our outreach and education efforts will include influencers, including professional athletes.”

What health experts and public officials have to decide is whether the value of vaccinating a few hundred athletes would be greater than the cost.

Researchers say that prominent people getting the vaccine and urging others to get the vaccine could help overcome widespread skepticism—especially in the Black community. Polls have shown that vaccine mistrust is greatest among Black adults.

“I could envisage celebrity sports figures playing a very constructive role with vaccine hesitancy,” said Harvey Fineberg, a former dean of Harvard’s School of Public Health and former president of the Institute of Medicine. He says it’s perfectly sensible to let athletes and other influencers get their shots early if that means they can serve as official ambassadors to people who are hesitant about the vaccine.

On the other hand, Saad Omer, a member of the study committee for the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine framework for priorities in coronavirus vaccine allocation, warned that any sense that sports teams had been vaccinated before people with a more pressing claim would be counterproductive.

There is a long history of health campaigns using everyone from politicians to pastors for messaging purposes. Researchers found that President Barack Obama ‘s daughters receiving their H1N1 shots made a difference in parents’ willingness to have their children vaccinated. President Gerald Ford and his family got their shots on television during the 1976 vaccination campaign.

Anthony Fauci and President-elect Joe Biden, Obama, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton have already suggested they would take their vaccines publicly. But other statements of confidence might have to be targeted to specific constituencies because vaccine perception varies demographically.

“I don’t think there’s any doubt that professional athletes could have an important role to play in terms of speaking up for the vaccine and trying to get members of their respective communities to have faith in it,” said Arthur Reingold, the head of epidemiology and biostatistics at the University of California, Berkeley, School of Public Health, and a member of the National Academies’ vaccine distribution committee. “Whether that gets them higher in the line to get vaccinated themselves is a great question. I honestly don’t know the answer.”

I was curious what the comments would look like for this story. Typically, I disagree with about 90% of the comments made to wall street journal articles. However this time I was pleasantly surprised when I found myself in agreement with most of the comments.

The vast majority of people leaving a comment were against athletes, celebrities, and others Influencers being near the front of the line for the vaccine, and I feel the same way.

I have no problem with using such individuals for publicity and communication efforts, and I would encourage such efforts. However, I see no reason why such efforts have to be tied to these individuals getting priority for the vaccine.

I think healthcare workers, the elderly, and those in other high risk categories should be first in line. Athletes and other celebrities most likely don’t meet that criteria.

However, I do think these influencers can play a critical role in encouraging people to take the vaccine. Perhaps they could film some public service announcements about how they plan to get the vaccine once it is available to the general public and then follow up that PSA with a video showing them actually getting the vaccine.

To me such a solution is a win-win. You are taking advantage of the research showing that people are influenced by high profile people getting a vaccine, while at the same time not creating resentment towards these endorsers because they are not being given priority in the vaccine distribution. Such prioritization could backfire.

So start working on those PSAs, but get in line like the rest of us.

And by the way, for what it’s worth, even though I’m not an influencer, I plan to take the vaccine once it is available and proven to be safe and effective.



43 thoughts on “Should Star Athletes and Other Influencers Have Early Access to the COVID-19 Vaccine?

  1. I personally don’t want to be first-in-line and be a guinea pig for these vaccines. I feel these are a bit rushed. But, hey, that’s just my opinion. It’s just that I have watched too many science fictions where faulty vaccines or medicines led to unfortunate events. If they want to go ahead of me, be my guest. Hahaha…

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I think it would be quite brave of athletes to have the vaccine first. After all, we don’t know how well it will work or whether side effects will develop over time. The Southern hemisphere will only get these vaccines later as we are in summer now and our infection rate is lowish. You guys will be the guinea pigs. I must admit to thinking I’d like to see how it works out for the initial people who have it before I have it done. Some vaccines make you sick for a while.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I agree with your opinion, Jim. I think that a well-known person (athlete/celebrity) could greatly influence other people. Still, it’s hard to justify them going before medical personnel or the elderly.

    I forgot about the Obama children getting the H1N1 vaccine, and I can imagine that would have alleviated many parental concerns.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Unfortunately, so many don’t understand or appreciate the opportunity that they’ve been given. I’m impressed by those who give back for the sole reason to do something good rather than trying to bring attention to themselves.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. I want all the politicians to get the vaccine first. This will make them appear less like hypocrites, which would leave me feeling a little more willing to get the vaccine, myself.

    By the way, Carolyn made a mean comment about you, in my post “Bitter Water Below.” Shh. Don’t tell her I told you.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. good idea about the politicians; perhaps they can be after all the front line workers and the elderly.
      As for Carolyn’s comments, she’s got a point. Princeton, brains, and Borden have never been uttered in the same sentence…

      Liked by 2 people

  5. I think your idea is the perfect compromise to the question. Encourage athletes/celebrities to publicly announce their intentions of getting the vaccine and then let them get their dose in the same order as everyone else. I was already put off by hearing how athletes and celebrities were able to get testing done well before it was at all available to the general public. There is a part of me that thinks their access to the vaccine may well be a function of the same privilege. But I will continue to hope that this is not the case. Front line medical personnel, first responders, and the elderly are at the highest risk and should be where we concentrate our efforts initially. I will get the vaccine as soon as it is available. Sure, there is some risk, but I do not know that it is greater than the risk of not getting it. The studies done have shown the recipients do suffer from mild symptoms for about 24 hours after receiving the first dose, but I will take mild symptoms over dying any day. After all we have been through, successfully vaccinating a majority of the population is our only real hope of putting this all in the rearview mirror of our lives. Great post, as always, my friend!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. i agree with you on every single word of this. when safe and effective, i will take the vaccine when it is offered. as for athletes/celebs getting it before others, i’d say no, instead they should use their power as influencers to help to lead the way. to be first would do more harm than good.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Personally, anyone who want to get vaccinated should get it. First or not. What makes athletes and influencers more important than regular people? Nothing. They’re famous and that’s it.
    But one way or the other, I just want the damn vaccine to be introduced because I’m going insane with this lockdown.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I think that the former presidents getting vaccines first should be enough to show people getting vaccinated is a good idea. Current athletes, movie stars, social media influencers need to stand in line with everyone else. Politicians should be last.

    Many former and even some current professional and prominent amateur athletes have conditions that could qualify them to get vaccines before others. Those athletes should be sufficient to demonstrate that people won’t immediately drop dead if they get a vaccine. I agree with you that these athletes would make good examples.

    But those who are skeptical may still be skeptical no matter who says they are getting a vaccine. They will not believe famous people are really getting a vaccine.

    Giving a handful of people a vaccine won’t prove anything as far as general safety. There are risks that are unknown. People should understand there are risks. These vaccines are being approved for “emergency use” after Phase I and II studies. The data from Phases III and IV is not available yet. At this point, scientists have confidence about safety and efficacy, but approval is being granted now only because people are dying and getting sick at such a high rate that negative effects of the vaccines, if any, are likely outweighed by the benefit of slowing the death and hospitalization rates. Short term and long term safety is not assured.

    B/t/w at this point I’ll take my chances and plan to get vaccinated at my earliest opportunity.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. well said, John. I agree there are risks with any vaccine, so I am willing to wait a little while before I get it. I wonder how many employers will require the vaccine?


  9. Are athletes more deserving than the rest of us? It’s a personal choice but I am sick and tired of these pampepred, self righteous millionaires getting first call. they should wait in line if they choose to – just like the rest of us!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I agree with you: the vaccine should go to those who need it, not those in the public eye. Using influencers for promotion is a good idea, as long as they are chosen well. Back in the days here of Mad Cow Disease the then Minister for Agriculture staged a photo shoot of him trying to feed a hamburger to his extremely reluctant little daughter. We all laughed, but I don’t think it did much to improve acceptance of the message that British beef was safe to eat!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. The vaccine should be distributed to those with the highest risk and need: health care workers, people living in long-term care, first responders, those in high-risk groups, and educators. As these groups are vaccinated, any issues with the vaccine will be documented. Potential PSA’s should already be in the works. When the vaccine is available for me, count me in.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. I’m interested to see how it all pans out, from the final tweaks to the vaccine to worldwide distribution. I wonder if initial trials would see some side effects. I’m still grateful for modern medicine though.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I am curious to see how initial vaccinations go as well. It is amazing how quickly multiple vaccines were developed and the global distribution network starting to come together.


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