In the middle of the rapidly growing COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services needed to prime the public for a vaccine that didn’t yet exist by instilling confidence in the vaccine and reducing hesitancy, especially among “moveable middle” individuals who could be persuaded.
This required breaking through several barriers; we needed to educate consumers about vaccines, tap into their attitudes, communicate trust in the vaccine development process (and the speed at which they were developed), overcome distrust in government and medical fields, understand their value systems, and address vaccine availability. Misinformation about vaccines and historic suspicion of health systems had to be addressed in a consistent and scientifically sound way. As vaccines became available to specific segments of the population and novel COVID-19 variants arose, we needed to retarget and pivot messaging quickly. Additionally, we needed to break through the COVID-19 fatigue of an endless news cycle amplified by social media.
Decisions about healthcare and vaccines are influenced by emotional connection. We needed to draw people’s attention and reinforce their roles in the process. Getting a COVID-19 vaccination was an active step that people could take to reclaim their lives and return to social activities with loved ones. Many people were unsure about the vaccine’s safety or concerned about side effects, and many were tired of pandemic restrictions and skeptical of public health measures that seemed to change frequently. Some of the most at-risk populations had limited access to websites or programs to increase vaccine availability. Access to medical information, like reliable medical advice from a PCP, was a challenge for some of the most vulnerable, especially those who continued working through the pandemic as essential employees. In a trying time, people needed to see themselves and feel the emotional benefits of prevention measures (masks, social distancing) and getting vaccinated for behavior change to set in. That meant the campaign needed to simultaneously differentiate messages to different audiences that were in different places on COVID-19.
Through a nationwide network of trusted messengers and consistent, fact-based public health messaging, the “We Can Do This” campaign provided critical information and emotional cues to encourage vaccination. Using television, digital/social, radio, print, out-of-home, and partnership events, we delivered tested, effective messages with the latest vaccination information and resources for where to find vaccines. We produced culturally tailored, plain language materials to support partner organizations’ outreach to their communities. Campaign messaging was guided to the communities that were most at risk and shifted to address moving COVID-19 hotspots over the course of the campaign. Starting with healthcare workers and the elderly, we used multiple campaign pushes across multiple audience targets based on vaccine eligibility and COVID conditions. These pushes included:
Slow the Spread: While awaiting access to vaccines, motivate the general public to continue practicing behaviors that help minimize the spread of COVID-19.
Vaccine Confidence (examples):
- Appeal to seniors (65+) with an inspiring message that their generation has always led the way during difficult times and now it’s time to harness their power to make a difference.
- Appeal to “Health Navigators,” whether vaccinated or not, who are adults who take care of themselves and care for or influence decisions related to care for others in their close circles. They are health-engaged, they research conditions, and they arrive at decisions from an informed perspective. Primarily reaching women aged 35-64, these messages encouraged taking an extra effort to make sure family members and friends had gotten their COVID-19 vaccines with an empowering and proactive message.
- Appeal to adults 18-64, announcing the vaccine eligibility of all adults.
- Appeal to young adults (18-24) that getting a vaccine enables them to get back out and return to fun.
- Appeal to parents with the hope of getting their children safely back to school.
As the pandemic continues to evolve, increased vaccination rates have blunted the impact of the Delta variant. In one of the largest public health emergencies in American history, our campaign has continued to deliver fact-based information as the situation has evolved.
- More than 212 million people in the U.S. have gotten at least one dose of vaccine. More than 55% of the total population is fully vaccinated (182 million and climbing). Vaccinated individuals have a substantially reduced risk of severe illness, hospitalization, and death from COVID-19.
- Vaccination rates have increased across all age and racial/ethnicity groups.
- More than 41% of parents with children aged 12-17 have gotten their children vaccinated.