5 unconventional approaches to COVID-19 vaccine promotion

The number of people in the U.S. getting newly vaccinated against COVID-19 each day is at the lowest it's been since the CDC began tracking the data in January — but only 55.5 percent of the country's population is fully vaccinated

Researchers, healthcare professionals, city officials and marketing specialists have been strategizing different ways to sway vaccine-hesitant Americans. Below are five of their efforts, as reported by Becker's Hospital Review.

  1. To see which messages and imagery resonate best with specific vaccine-hesitant audiences, some researchers are using A/B testing, a technique often included in marketing strategies. A/B testing occurs when two or more variants of a web page are shown to users at random and an analysis is conducted to determine which page performs better.

    When researchers applied the technique to COVID-19 vaccine promotion, they found the messages that worked well in one region didn't necessarily resonate in another.

  2. Charlotte, N.C.-based advertising agency BooneOakley invented the fictional "Wilmore Funeral Home" to warn people what could happen if they remain unvaccinated against COVID-19. The strategy is bold, but marketing and health experts are split on whether it's effective.

    The agency sent out a black truck with the phrase "Don't get vaccinated" on its side and rear panels to circle the blocks around an NFL game in Charlotte. The truck appeared to belong to the nonexistent Wilmore Funeral Home, and it directed users to the funeral home's website and phone number.

    Photos of the truck went viral. When people visit the website listed on the side of the truck, they're taken to a webpage that reads "Get vaccinated now. If not, see you soon.” The page directs users to the vaccine information page for StarMed, a chain of urgent care centers that has been providing COVID-19 vaccines in the Charlotte area.

  3. A $100 COVID-19 vaccine referral program has facilitated more than 20,000 vaccinations in New York City since June. New York City worked with community-based organizations and NYC Health + Hospitals, the city's public health system, to encourage getting vaccinated by awarding $100 for each referral that leads to someone getting their first COVID-19 dose at a city-run site.

    There are 890 organizations that have participated in the referral program, including 34 organizations that have reached the $20,000 cap on available bonuses.

  4. Creating awareness of the tropes shared among most conspiracy theories and misinformation campaigns could be an effective approach to stop the spread of COVID-19 hoaxes.

    The practice is sometimes referred to as "psychological inoculation." Just as vaccinated people build antibodies to fight off disease, people can resist being persuaded by misinformation after they've been exposed to the weakened arguments. Public health experts have used psychological inoculation in the past to protect people against misleading smoking advertisements and other predictable misinformation.

    Fact checking individual pieces of misinformation not only allows the falsehoods to go viral while being vetted, but it also addresses only one claim, not related theories or subsequent pieces of misinformation. "Prebunking" entire tropes gives people the awareness they need to counter multiple false claims that could harm their wellbeing and public health.

  5. Understanding the psychological phenomenon known as FOMO — an acronym for "fear of missing out" — could be key to effective COVID-19 vaccine promotion. Patrick McGinnis, a venture capitalist who coined the term, defined FOMO as "an anxiety, often fueled by social media, that others are having more rewarding experiences than you."

    Making people aware of the experiences and opportunities that they may miss because of their vaccination status could be a way to combat vaccine hesitancy. Mr. McGinnis said that the human desire to feel part of the group and be in the know is innate, dating back to hunter-gatherer societies in which people needed to be included in order to survive. 

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