Launched out of step to reach its COVID-19 vaccination goal, the Biden administration is sending A-list officials across the country, developing ads for niche markets and enriching community organizers to convince people that they are not vaccinated to get a shot.
The strategy has trapped a political campaign, complete with data crunching to identify groups that can be conquered.
But the message is about public health, not ideology. The focus is on a group of health officials calling it a “mobile medium” – about 55 million vaccinated adults seen as persuasive, many of them under 30.
“We’re not just going to do mass vaccination sites,” said Xavier Becerra, secretary to Health and Human Services. “It’s door-to-door. It’s mobile clinics. We do vaccinations in church, PTA meeting, barber shop, grocery store.”
Officers took a new point of convincing talk, courtesy of the coronavirus. The powerful delta variant that has ruined India is spreading here. Now containing about 1 in 5 genetically decoded virus samples in the United States, the most transmissible mutation has gained a foothold in Mountain West and in the heart states. Many of those infected are young and not vaccinated.
The White House has lent its prime names to boosting vaccination.
President Joe Biden on Thursday visited a mobile vaccination site in Raleigh, North Carolina. Earlier in the day, First Lady Jill Biden held the hand of a woman at a vaccination site in Kissimmee, Florida.
Doug Emhoff, the husband of Vice President Kamala Harris, has amassed thousands of miles of frequent flyers, visiting at least 18 or 19 states by his count.
The administration has also recruited celebrities and athletes, including country music star Brad Paisley and the Tampa Bay Lightning hockey team. He has partnered with Twitch and Riot Games to reach out to online gamers and with Panera and Chipotle to offer free food to those who receive a hit.
The message, as surgeon general Vivek Murthy put it, said: “If you are vaccinated, you are protected. If you are not, the threat of variants is real and growing.”
It is unclear how well the persuasion levers work. Vaccination rates have dropped below 1 million per day, and there is still no sign of a change. The administration has acknowledged that it will be no more than its goal to have 70% of adults vaccinated by the fourth of July.
At this point, about 170 million American adults have received at least one dose of vaccine, representing about two-thirds of those 18 years of age and older. An Associated Press analysis suggests that Biden’s self-imposed target may not be reached until the end of July at current vaccination rates.
HHS analysts have developed a rough sketch of those in the mobile center. They tend to be younger, mainly 18-29 years old. Most are not educated at university, and political independents predominate. Black and Latino adults are more likely to fall into this category than people from other backgrounds.
It can be a tough sale. After Jill Biden’s visit to Mississippi earlier in the week, Sherie Bardwell, a resident of the Gulf Coast, was not impressed. She said Biden’s comment that “vaccines might feel like a miracle, but there’s no need for faith,” seemed like a dig to people with Christian beliefs.
“He said blows are miracles that don’t require faith. The Bible says only live by faith,” said Bardwell, who followed the news about the first woman’s visit. Bardwell said she and her husband had COVID-19 and was denied.
“My thoughts are, if you already have the coronavirus, why do you need the vaccine?” Bardwell asked. “If vaccination was the ‘miracle,’ then why are you still in danger of contracting the virus after receiving the shot? It just doesn’t make sense to me.” Doctors advise patients recovering from vaccinations to maintain protection.
Privately, some White House officials are concerned that the persuasive universe may be in decline.
The first success with vaccination paradoxically made things more difficult. Now that homes and deaths have dropped to levels not seen since the beginning of the pandemic, officials say it has become more difficult to convince Americans of the urgency of having a hit – especially the pandemics. younger people who already knew they were at low risk for serious complications.
Biden officials say they recognize that it will take more than celebrity pitching to close the deal. In Knoxville, Tennessee, a retired hospice and home care administrator has become a voluntary COVID-19 response organizer in the Black community. Cynthia Finch is one of many in the country towards whom federal health officials have turned out to be “messengers of trust”.
Finch named his local vaccination strategy “3 V”. It started with what it calls “vaccination partners,” such as local hospitals and universities, to create a framework. She then organized volunteers to give blows working with professional groups including a black nursing sorority. Finally, he reached out to pastoralists and community organizations to provide places where people could come to get their vaccines. Finch estimates that these efforts have led to thousands of people being completely vaccinated.
She said she is accustomed to dealing with skepticism, particularly given the history of undercover care in minority communities and the use of black patients in medical experiments without her consent. She tries to listen carefully to objections and concerns, and responds with factual information that is timely.
“When you start telling them things they can be related to, it calms them down a bit,” he said.
His own motivation is personal. Finch said a close friend lost two brothers apart from COVID-19, and that motivated him to continue working. “People are still dying,” he said.
While applauding the Biden administration’s efforts to vaccinate Americans, some public health experts say there are limits to what persuasion can achieve.
The administration has ruled out vaccination passports that could become a ticket to benefits such as international travel. But Dr. Leana Wen, a former Baltimore health commissioner, said a federal verification system that people could use to test their vaccination status could also be an incentive.
“Setting a 70% aspiration target was the right goal for the Biden administration, but I wish they weren’t so hesitant about vaccination needs,” he said.
“We will be in a position where most of the country will be vaccinated,” Wen said. “Why should they be held hostage by a minority of the population, who are in danger of endangering everyone else?”
Administration officials showed no signs of movement in his position. “The federal government is not thinking of creating a database of people who have been vaccinated,” Murthy said.