White House enlists army of TikTok stars to combat vaccine hesitancy

Young people have the lowest COVID-19 vaccination rates of any eligible age group in the U.S. The White House is tackling the issue by paying social media influencers, particularly those who post on TikTok, to encourage their audiences to get their shots, The New York Times reported Aug. 1.

Influencer marketing agencies have been contacting social media influencers who have large followings of young people, saying they're reaching out on behalf of the White House in an effort to grow COVID-19 vaccine uptake among young Americans. The strategy has been in development since January, according to Rob Flaherty, the White House's director of digital strategy.

Currently, the White House has contracted more than 50 influencers to post about youth vaccination on TikTok, YouTube, Instagram and Twitch. State and local governments have similar contracts with local influencers, paying up to $1,000 a month to encourage COVID-19 vaccinations.

One of the federal government's most noteworthy efforts to encourage vaccinations among young people came when Olivia Rodrigo, an 18-year-old pop star, visited the White House in July and urged young Americans to "actually get to a vaccination site." 

Ms. Rodrigo taped a discussion about youth vaccination with Anthony Fauci, MD, the White House chief medical adviser, as have several other influencers hired by the federal government in the past few months.

Surveys show vaccine-hesitant and vaccine-resistant Americans are more likely to accept messages encouraging COVID-19 vaccination from social media influencers than mainstream celebrities. In their Q&As with Dr. Fauci and posts promoting vaccination, many influencers address and dispel misinformation, such as the proliferating myth that COVID-19 vaccines cause infertility.

"When I saw that I was like, OK, I need to ask [Dr. Fauci] about it,” Ellie Zeiler, a 17-year-old TikTok creator who partnered with the White House told The New York Times. "It was kind of sad to see him be like, no, that’s not true."


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