Vaccinations are a controversial subject, to say the least.

The debate between the pro and anti-vaxxers has become common in mainstream media and local communities alike. It is difficult to get the right message out to the masses amidst the concerted campaigns, inflamed passions, and misinformation. 

Raising awareness regarding vaccinations, getting the right message across, and motivating people to get vaccinated is the need of the hour. As a result, the US government has turned to influencers!

Several influencers have been activated across the country, led by the White House and joined by state governments and local authorities. This is certainly an endorsement of the power of influencers, one that brands have recognized and have leveraged multiple times in the past. It is also a fresh approach from the government to social issues, using a more sophisticated approach to mass public awareness, which could become commonplace soon. 

Let’s try to dig a little deeper and understand the reasons behind this approach, how the campaigns are being run, and of course, what this means for influencers. 

 

Why Are Influencers Being Used?

The freedom to make personal choices is certainly one of our prized rights. This is a great concept, but unfortunately, it gets complicated when malicious intentions are at play. Misinformation/Fake News is definitely one of them. Preposterous accusations backed by bogus data, enough to convince someone not so well informed, is usually the way this works.

The anti-vaccination campaigners have been loud for much of the past few years, even before COVID became a conversation. These campaigns have often relied on misinformation about vaccinations in general. Now, we see the same as it applies to COVID specifically. 

The context makes it difficult to achieve a 100% vaccination in the country and essentially putting everyone at risk in the long run. Governments are also more aware that rulings and mandatory vaccinations would perhaps have a more negative impact. Perks for vaccinations have been a successful strategy, with the Biden administration calling for $100 payouts for those who vaccinate. Using influencers can be seen as the second part of that strategy – one based on providing credible information and busting myths. 

The US government has been pushing for more vaccinations, but more than 50% of the 18-39 age group remains unvaccinated. In the 12-18 years range, 58% remain unvaccinated. Pushing them to vaccinate is high on the agenda, and influencers with a big following among the GenZ and millennials are being lined up. 

Using influencers is not a new concept when you think about it. If it was Elvis Presley who took the polio vaccine live on TV in 1956, the influencers today are young content creators on TikTok and Instagram or a small local community influencer. This time, the influencers are not superstars and legends alone who are spreading the message. This is coming from an understanding that it’s not just stars but also other influencers who shape this. Studies show that young people trust the advice of a content creator over a mainstream celebrity.  It would also be an effective way to tackle misinformation, as it comes from those who have a good voice in a community and are closer to them than any government source ever can be.

The idea of using influencers also stems from the fact that the digitally savvy younger generation would also have considerable influence within their families, and they can influence a larger set of people to get vaccinated. 

There is also the question of reaching the marginalized communities. The African American, Hispanic, and Asian communities are generally underserved when it comes to most government interventions, and there was a need to reach out to these communities as well. Influencers who have sway in these communities are part of the initiative as well. While we find people with influence taking it upon themselves to spread the message in these communities, it is perhaps the first time social media influencers are being tapped and paid to spread it. 

 

How Are The Influencers Being Used?

The coordinated strategy to use Influencers started in the White House, with marketing agencies and Made to Save, a national campaign that works for greater access to the vaccine. There were several interactions with influencers too who interacted with the experts on vaccines and how they work. 

There are quite a few influencers who have been roped in for the White House-led campaign and several more that have been enlisted by state governments and other agencies. The list includes Christina Najjar, a TikTok star named Tinx, 17-year-old TikTok star Ellie Zeiler, and Pop Star Olivia Rodrigo. There are 40 influencers on the list, including YouTubers, Twitch streamers, and TikTokers. 

The State and local governments are also running similar campaigns where local micro-influencers are paid up to $1000 a month to engage and motivate their followers to get vaccinated. Influencer campaigns are being run by health authorities in Colorado, San Jose, Chicago, California,  Oklahoma City, New Jersey, and other states. 

The campaign’s focus lies in sharing specific and credible information regarding vaccinations and dispelling myths surrounding this. Dr. Anthony S. Fauci was seen chatting live with influencers and answering questions regarding the vaccination on two occasions at least. He used these appearances to tackle questions on vaccinations affecting fertility and other widespread myths. 

 

What Are The Chances Of Success?

It is not an easy job convincing impassioned anti-vaccination hardliners, perhaps impossible. Influencers can help spread credible information and use their authenticity to influence as many followers as possible. The early reports are certainly positive, with local and state governments sharing the news of increased vaccination rates corresponding to these campaigns.

But there are 2 major issues. Vaccinations are highly controversial, and many influencers would actively stay away from a conversation of this sort. Using influencers en-masse may hence become tricky in the longer run.

The other issue is that of deep convictions, which are hard to alter. The anti-vaccination movement has a lot of ardent supporters who are unwilling to vaccinate themselves or their families. These people would be hard to influence by any means, and this would mean that there will be a percentage of the population that can’t be easily influenced by any means.   

Irrespective of the issues, the campaign is showing promising results in the first few days. One certain thing is that this can only work as a part of the campaign, and there will have to be other measures being taken to reward those getting vaccinated. 

 

What Does This Mean For The Influencer Community?

It’s still early days, but this certainly opens a new avenue for Influencers. Biden Campaign for the 2020 Elections also saw them using influencers to raise awareness and asking people to vote. This trend could be a start, where influencers could be used as information dissemination channels for other areas. Influencers are likely to see rising work demand in areas such as spreading awareness about federal and local government programs, health initiatives, and political campaigns.

It is also a great endorsement for the influencer community as a whole, who have been playing a vital role in COVID preventive measures, both as a part of sponsored campaigns and otherwise. There is a growing consensus that social media content creators are also credible and authentic messengers for various domains and not just restricted to brand promotions.  

 

In Closing

COVID vaccination drive is perhaps the largest public health undertaking globally in a long while now. The world has changed a lot in these intervening years, and crisis responses have also evolved to make use of whatever resources are available. Social media, for all its pros and cons, remains a very active part of everyday life. US government’s move to use influencers for vaccination drives is a recognition of this changed reality.

The way we accept and process information from social media is also changing, with many of us relying on thought leaders and content creators in specific domains for information. Influencers have nurtured and grown a community that looks up to them for advice and recommendations, and this campaign leverages that relationship. 

The anti-vaccine movement has been a significant stumbling block in the process, and using local, credible voices to set the facts right and dispel myths is a great approach. How this works out remains to be seen!

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