After a series of controversies, the Trump administration has launched a $250 million vaccine education campaign aimed at convincing people who are hesitant to get a shot

Drew Angerer/Getty ImagesPresident Donald Trump (left) and Dr. Anthony Fauci.
  • The Trump administration is beginning to roll out its $US250 million vaccine education campaign that aims to encourage people to get a shot.
  • The campaign will include a series of advertisements – but celebrity endorsements, and a plan for Santa performers to take part in exchange for early access to a vaccine, were both scrapped.
  • House Democrats slammed original proposals for the campaign “as a vehicle for taxpayer-funded political propaganda,” and spoke out against documents that showed officials vetoed potential celebrity collaborators because of their political views.
  • The revised campaign will target people who are hesitant to take the vaccine but can be persuaded to do som Mark Weber, the federal health official behind the initiative, told The New York Times.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

The Trump administration is beginning to roll out a $US250 million COVID-19 vaccine education campaign aimed at persuading people who are hesitant to get a shot.

The campaign, featuring print, social media, and radio ads — and later, television ads — has proved controversial.

House Democrats slammed original proposals for the campaign “as a vehicle for taxpayer-funded political propaganda,” and criticised it again after documents showed officials ruled out Justin Timberlake as a potential collaborator because he “publicly endorsed Obama and supports gay marriage.”

The revised campaign will have a “science-based approach,” Mark Weber, the federal health official behind the initiative, told The New York Times, and will target people who are hesitant to take the vaccine but can be persuaded to do so.

It follows the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approving Pfizer and BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use on Friday.

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is overseeing the “Building Vaccine Confidence” campaign, which was developed by market researchers Fors Marsh Group. The government will run focus groups so that officials can target groups most at risk of the virus, and it will also observe data to see whether the campaign makes a difference in vaccination uptake, Weber told the NYT.

“This is exciting; the vaccines have been developed in record time,” he told the publication. “But we have to be careful not to generate demand before they are available to the broader public.”

The road to the campaign hasn’t been smooth

The campaign has been months in the making, and has faced a series of hurdles.

It was originally devised by Michael Caputo, the assistant secretary for public affairs at HHS, who House Democrats said was using this contract “as a vehicle for taxpayer-funded political propaganda.”

The Democrats referred to a meeting Caputo held with executives of Atlas and Burson, Cohn, & Wolfe in October to discuss plans for the campaign. In notes from the meeting, Caputo suggested that one of the themes of the campaign could be “helping the president will help the country,” per an October letter from House Democrats, which they called “completely inappropriate” in the run up to the election.


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As part of his plan, Caputo wanted to use celebrities who met a list of eligibility criteria and Santa performers to endorse the vaccine, but both were scrapped, leading to a six-week hold on the project.

According to the letter from Democrats, the administration compiled a list of at least 274 celebrities as potential endorsers of the campaign, but all but ten were ruled out. Factors taken into account included “whether they support gay rights and same-sex marriage or have ever disagreed with President Trump in the past,” the Democrats said.

According to the document, Jack Black was removed because he is “known to be a classic Hollywood liberal” and Zach Galifianakis because he “refused to host President Trump on talk show.”

Actor Dennis Quaid and country singer Billy Ray Cyrus were among the 10 celebrities the administration had hoped would appear in the campaign, and three of these filmed videos for the campaign. But as of October 1, all celebrities who had agreed to take part in the campaign had withdrawn their consent.

It is unclear what role President Donald Trump will play in the campaign.

After former presidents Barack Obama, George W. Bush, and Bill Clinton all said they would take the vaccine on camera, White House officials described Trump taking the vaccine publicly as “certainly under consideration” to the NYT.

But if Trump wants to do so, he may have to wait. Top US officials could be offered the vaccine any day now, but Trump said he’d wait to receive it until the “appropriate time.”

President-elect Joe Biden has already said he will take the vaccine when available.

The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is running its own vaccination education campaign for medical professionals, including planning an online vaccine safety seminar it held on Monday.

Why is a vaccine campaign needed?

During the pandemic, some groups have protested a potential COVID-19 vaccine, attempted to discredit scientists, and vowed they would not be vaccinated against the novel coronavirus.

This hesitation to take a vaccine could derail nationwide progress in curtailing the spread of COVID-19, experts have told Business Insider. Only 58% of Americans would take a vaccine if it was available today for free, according to a November Gallup poll, and Biden has warned that Americans are losing faith in the shot.

“When you have an anti-science element together with a divisiveness in the country, it will be challenging,” Fauci told The New York Times Friday. “But you know, we’ve done challenging things before.”

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