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.