My brilliant idea on how to get people vaccinated

August 3, 2021 • 12:30 pm

If you watch the evening news, as I do daily, you see that virtually all the commercials are aimed at medical problems of the elderly: psoriasis, metastatic cancer, arthritis, and so on. That alone tells you the demographic of people who watch the evening news (all the younger people get their news from Trevor Noah).

But the commercials I find most effective, although I don’t smoke, involve direct testimony from people who got cancer from smoking. They show people whose throats have been largely excised, who have to talk with a mechanical device, who are on permanent oxygen, who show their open-heart surgery scars, or who are on their deathbeds—all telling you that they wish they’d realized the consequences of their behavior. Actually seeing those consequences surely makes people think twice, and it’s for that reason that in some countries they put disgusting pictures of cancer-riddled lungs on the sides of cigarette packs. They wouldn’t have ads like that if they didn’t work.

And then, on the news reports themselves, you see people whose relatives or loved ones have died of COVID, or people who are recovering from a bad case of the virus; and these people often say, “I wish I’d gotten vaccinated.” Last night there was a segment on an unvaccinated woman who was pregnant. She had to be intubated, and while she was under the hospital delivered her 8-week-premature baby. Fortunately, both mom and baby are fine, but she added that she wouldn’t want anybody putting their children in danger like she did.

That inspired me. Why don’t the CDC or NIH turn those pronouncements into advertisements to get vaccinated? It can’t be hard to dig up people who got COVID and were sorry they didn’t get their jabs and who would also be willing to be on television. After all, I see them almost nightly. Or show a man in a hospital bed, recovering from a bad case of the virus, who tells the viewers not to let themselves be put in his position. Or show the relatives, friends, and loved ones of those who died, saying that they’d still have their people with them if they’d been vaccinated.

Surely those ads would inspire people to get vaccinated—at least inspire them more than hearing Anthony Fauci or Rochelle Walensky drone on about the delta variant—talking heads who also appear nightly, taking up far more time on the news. Of course we need to hear what they have to say, but they are not as much as a stimulus as hearing from the unvaccinated, those who got ill, on commercials aimed at the 100 million Americans who refuse to get their jabs.

And don’t tell me that the government doesn’t have the money to pay for such ads. For one thing, the television stations probably wouldn’t charge for them, as they are public-service ads. Second, the government is about to pay people $100 each to get vaccinated, so there’s spare dosh sitting around somewhere. Better invest that money in ads than in direct payments for those who get the needle.

I think this is a very good idea. Do you?

Or, if you have a better idea, or even a different approach, please put it in the comments.

67 thoughts on “My brilliant idea on how to get people vaccinated

  1. I like the idea. Note, the speakers (who will have to be “real people”) will be setting themselves up to be doxxed, threatened, ridiculed, etc.

    1. Seems well worth trying. I wonder what proportion of refusers are sufficiently conspiracy-minded to suspect they are just actors, though. The low cost and possible effect make it seem a sensible idea.

      1. That was going to be my comment. Those vehemently opposed to vaccines will just dismiss it as staged propoganda. It might sway some of the on-the-fence hesitants though.

  2. I certainly think that it’s worth at least a trial run. With a form at the vax sites that asks if the person saw the ads, and if they formed a part of the decision to get the needle. Fairly immediate feedback would help determine if the investment was sound. Why not give it a shot? (So to speak…)

  3. Smoking rates are way down from a decade or so ago. I don’t know how much is due to restrictions on smoking in workplaces etc, and how much due to ads like these. But at the rate lives and health are being lost, it’s damn well worth a try.

  4. Maybe they could get Sarah McLachlan to provide some musical accompaniment on the ads.

    Seriously, though, I’d support both direct payments and emotional appeal PSAs. Each would motivate a different population of the unvaccinated.

  5. Yes, Prof, a very good idea! I, a Chicago native of a certain age, am reminded of the TV spots in the 1960s by our US senator Everett Dirksen in which he, dying of lung cancer, urged viewers not to smoke. More recently, last summer I met a man who was recovering from COVID-19 and who related to me that during the worst of the disease, it felt to him as if he were trying to cough up Elmer’s glue. Now that’s a graphic image eminently suited for TV!

  6. The Infectious Disease Society of America is currently running ads. As are some state governments, I believe. Whether you see them or not probably depends on where you live, when you watch TV, and so on, as they are run to target people less likely to have been vaccinated.

    This doesn’t preclude the CDC from running them. But it’d be nice if all these groups shared data on how they’re measuring ad impact, what ads work best vs. don’t, what times work best, etc. so that the CDC can put ads where they will do the most good.

    Also a bureaucratic quibble, but (unlike NGOs and state governments) Congress must approve new spending for the CDC. If ad funding wasn’t authorized in the FY2021 CDC budget (developed about a year in advance), they can’t legally spend money on ads this year. At least, that’s the way it’s supposed to work…as Trump realigning DOD funding for his wall shows, the executive branch sometimes quite liberally interprets Congress’ orders on how to spend money. But in general, we probably don’t want to promote that bad habit even in the service of a good cause.

  7. I think it’s a great idea. There’s an Alabama doctor who spoke out and said that un-vaccinated patients ask for the vaccine before they’re intubated. She has to tell them, “I’m sorry, but it’s too late.” It’s heart-wrenching. There was a new article that has been posted on facebook.

    1. Yeah, I suspect that story is made up. She’s talking about recently “young, healthy people” show up dying and begging for the vaccine as she holds their hands an tells them that it’s too late. Just when was this?

      In Alabama, young people are 0.2% of the deaths. Even if we say “young” means under 50, that’s still is young, it’s still only 5.2% of the deaths. And healthy people (i.e. those without underlying comorbidities) are only 4.2% of the deaths. What is the intersection between “young” and “healthy”? Let’s be generous and say that there’s a big intersection and 2% of the deaths are in the young and healthy bracket.

      Now, how many deaths are there in Alabama? About 4 per day. 2% of 4 is 0.08 young and healthy people dying of COVID per day. And then what fraction of COVID patients is this one doctor seeing? Let’s be very generous and say she’s some kind of super doctor that manages to care for 10% of all such patients in the state. That’s 0.008 young and healthy patients dying of COVID that she personally sees… or 1 every 125 days. But she talks as though this is a regular occurrence. Right…

      1. You haven’t given sources for your statistics. According to Alabama’s COVID-19 dashboard, the state has had 11,542 COVID deaths (4,473 of them thus far in 2021), which is substantially more than four per day, and cases are currently surging across the state. The state currently has approximately 1,600 patients hospitalized with the disease. Of those hospitalized, approximately 25% require ICU care and 10% require intubation on a ventilator.

        In the referenced article, the doctor relates conversations she’s had with formerly healthy, young patients before they’re intubated. Accusing her of lying is a serious allegation that ought not be made without substantial evidence. I don’t believe you’ve made your case.

    2. Perhaps they would be effective, but I’m generally against trying to persuade people with anecdotes rather than data. Should we also dig up some of the tens of thousands who had severe reactions after taking the vaccine, suffering brain damage or being crippled, and have them tell their stories too? If that’s not legitimate, because it tends to exaggerate the threat of a vaccine that’s generally safe, then I’d say tear-jerking anecdotes about COVID deaths are also not legitimate, for the same reason.

  8. I think it would have limited affect. The states having the lowest numbers in this battle are generally republican country. A better commercial would be for Trump to tell them to get the vaccine. In their world commercials just would not move them. A row of dead virus victims probably would not get them. However if you said they could no longer go fishing or shoot their guns, that might work. Missouri has one of the lowest rates of vaccines and the hospitals are all full up. Take away their fishing and hunting until they get vaccinated.

    1. I recall from my psychology classes many years ago that “hard-hitting” anti-smoking adverts showing sick and diseased people have little effect in changing behaviour of smokers. The adverts cause people to feel frightened and threatened, and so they blank out the message and try to forget about it.

      Standard approaches used in advertising were more effective – smoking makes you less attractive to the opposite sex, causes you to smell bad etc. On that basis I was surprised when cigarette packets started to feature the horrible pictures of smoking-related illnesses on them. I don’t know whether their effectiveness has been studied, but I’m guessing they’re aimed more at stopping people from starting smoking in the first place, as that seems to be the emphasis these days.

      1. I recall from my psychology classes many years ago that “hard-hitting” anti-smoking adverts showing sick and diseased people have little effect in changing behaviour of smokers. The adverts cause people to feel frightened and threatened, and so they blank out the message and try to forget about it.

        Good to know. That seems to fit with the response to global warming, too. Alarm, no matter how reality-based, draws a blank response.

        Does vaccination makes you attractive to the opposite sex? Only to the more intelligent members thereof. Still, the overall odds are probably better when you’re vaccinated. If so, let’s focus on that.

    2. In Florida, 8% of vaccinations have went to Black people, although they represent 15% of the total population.
      I agree. Tell them they can no longer shoot their guns, that might work.

      In Texas, 8% of vaccinations have gone to Black people, who make up 12% of the population

      (Data as at July 19th)

      Take away their fishing and hunting until they get vaccinated.

  9. I systematically ask my patients if they are vaccinated and recommend vaccination if they are not.
    Today I had an 80 year old diabetic ouma, who said she rather trusted the Lord than get vaccinated.

    I told her the story of the guy in a flood, he stands on his roof, water to his thighs. He prays to the Lord to save him. Minutes later some people on a large raft pass and invite him to join them to safety. He declines, declaring he rather trusts the Lord. Sends a new prayer.
    A short while later, the water has reached his chest. A ‘rubber duck’ passes inviting him to come aboard and be saved. He declines: “I rather trust the Lord” and makes a new prayer.
    A bit later, the water is at his neck, a helicopter passes over and throws a rope ladder, “come, you can still make it”. But our steadfast hero says: “no thank you, I trust the Lord, He will save me.”
    Eventually he drowns (of course).Coming to the last judgement, he blames the Lord for not saving him. The Lord answers: “Look, I sent you a raft, I sent you a rubber duck and I even sent you a helicopter, but you would not be helped!”
    I hope that patient understood that the vaccine is ‘The Lord’s Helicopter’, at least her accompanying granddaughter appeared very convinced. She told her granny that the Lord gave us the vaccine. I declined to tell her it was the researchers, not the Lord. Sometimes it is better just to leave it as is .

    1. Whatever is takes, right? Stories like this get me down. On the one hand, there are members of our species capable of developing ingenious vaccines. And then there are millions of others who need to be convinced that a magic man in the sky made the vaccine in order to take it.

      As my father always said in this situations like this…”son, always remember that half the population has a double digit IQ!”

  10. Yes great idea. This seems to be how they’re doing it: through Tik Tok influencers (not tee vee ads).

    No indication in this story whether any of the influencers who were recruited for this effort were ever themselves sick with COVID, so not the kind of personal testimonies that Jerry is suggesting. But there’s reason to think that teens believe they just won’t get sick (so are not persuaded by the experience of those who did get sick), but teens do want to be like influencers (so might get the jab). IDK since I’m not on Tik Tok, and my own teens got jabbed readily and for other reasons.

  11. The ads would likely need to run on Fox News to have any impact. And perhaps even more effective would be to run ads that list all of the Repugnicans/Foxers who have had the vaccination – Trump, Carlson, Hannity, etc.

    1. Good idea. And perhaps the testimonials could be given in the form of an interview, using conservative icons and stars — patriotic country singers, evangelical tv hosts, or former Republican politicians with a nostalgic glow about them — asking the questions. Tick as many boxes as possible.

  12. I think that this could be a very effective component of a many-pronged campaign. Combined with appeals from a legion of hard-core Republican stalwarts who’ve seen the light for one or another reason, it would likely give those who are beginning to feel just the teeniest bit worried about the delta variant coming on like the Four Horsemen the last bit of push they need to get them to go in for that jab. There are apparently a lot of folk in that situation now; something like this could turn out to be a lifesaver for them.

  13. As an alternative, run PSAs telling the anti-vaccine crowd the the evil liberals don’t want them to be vaccinated, that liberals want them to die of COVID so they will be able to take over the country. So if they really want to “own the libs”, they should get their shots.

    1. I heard a similar funny story. A woman was at the doctor’s office and while speaking to the intern, elaborated at length on her anti-vax views (ie. Big Pharma, hoax, etc.). The intern warned the doctor, who was unconcerned. When he went to see the patient, she again elaborated on her conspiracy theory anti-vax views, to which he replied that he thought that those originated in China with the goal to undermine U.S. healthcare. She thought about that for a few seconds, then requested to be vaccinated.

      So to undermine conspiracy theorists, present them with a bigger conspiracy!

  14. I got a call today from the CDC, someone taking a survey. Normally I do not do surveys but i did this one. Took 5 or 10 minutes. Strange questions really and they warn you it may be recorded and you do not have to answer any questions you don’t want to answer. Wanted to know if you had been vaccinated and when. Also wanted to know if you had covid. Were most of your family and friends vaccinated. Did you think it was a good idea to get vaccinated. How old were you. Are you male or female. Transgender. Gay or straight. How much money you make. How much education you have. What kind of health insurance if any. I’m sure there were more but that was most of it.

    1. In the UK, given the fats General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) that we inherited from our membership of the European Union, that would sound like a data-fishing scam. I would certainly hope that a) the National Health Service (NHS) already had (most of) that information and was storing it securely and 2) wouldn’t make an uninvited call asking for personal information. But of course I understand that the USA is a different world in many of these respects…

      1. I don’t know where “fats” came from in the first sentence – editing on my Kindle is somewhat problematic, so I’m blaming that!

      2. Much different here I would say. The CDC would likely not know me from nothing. Also the person did not ask anything about me that would even be very important. The CDC puts out reports and more reports but that’s about it. Most of what i have read about the covid-19 saga in the U.S., the CDC did very little to help or fight the virus.

    2. In the UK I was invited *by letter* to be included (possibly) in the REACT (Real-time Assessment of Community Transmission) study. If you were accepted,as I was, you got sent a blood test kit to test for presence of two antibodies which you could then report on-line with a photo of the results (in a secure way)..Other ‘ordinary’ testing methods were also included in the study.

      Now this is not an encouragement to be vaccinated, but it does show how well organised and secure communications may be done. Had I been invited to take part by phone I would not have done so, especially when personal details are requested.

      As for the horrible stories of COVID sufferers – not going to have a significant effect in my opinion. People have fixed views on certain matters and they rarely change these views. Consider how many people cannot be argued out of their religious belief. Or for that matter how many people are died-in-the-wool Republican or Democratic supporters.

    3. Randall Schenck How do you know it was the CDC who called you? And why would you answer such probing questions from a stranger? I have gotten calls from political operatives or telemarketers posing as “surveyors” who soften you up with innocent questions and “you don’t have to answer” then ask a probing question like what is your income, who did you vote for, etc.

  15. Our host’s suggestion gets a thumbs up from me. In the UK, we’re offering young adults free pizzas, taxis, kebabs, and other nonsense. It seems an insult to those in the same age group who have already been vaccinated (although given the timeframe, most will only have had the first jab so far). A huge debate is going on about so-called vaccine passports, allowing greater freedoms to those who have been fully vaccinated already, etc. Surely a lot of the details of the government regulations.about vaccination enticements and freedoms could have been agreed last year even in advance of a vaccine being available?

  16. I think medical insurance companies should remove Covid treatment from their coverage unless you’re vaccinated. Losing your life clearly isn’t enough to focus the mind for some. The odds are fairly good that most people will survive, so that’s a risk they’re maybe willing to take. But hospital bills are not a long shot, when it comes to a disease that puts a decent percentage of those who contract it into intensive care. Come on, Karens of the world – roll the dice. Bet your house on the fact you’ll be OK.

  17. There’s a Facebook meme going around that simply asks if you know anyone who has died from COVID. Everyone knows at least one person who has died. Maybe there will be some cumulative effect eventually.

    1. When I was a smoker the risk of cancer was too remote to convince me to give it up. It was only when I learned about other much more common side effects of smoking, like heart disease and emphysema that the calculus worked. I suspect it is the same with Covid19. We have all heard that it kills old people but death amongst people younger than 60 is rare, or at least rare enough that you can assume you have a 99% chance of living if you caught it. However if there are non-lethal consequences, as we know in the case of long-covid, that could affect 20-30% of people, that is the kind of odds that makes you think. So, rather than deaths, we should perhaps publicise long-covid and the consequences of being a sufferer of chronic downstream effects of infection.

      1. I think that is a good idea. All this talk about death is not persuasive to me, because the death rate is quite low, and it’s overwhelmingly concentrated among people who are statistically a short time away from dying of something. Talk about cases is even less persuasive, because cases are irrelevant about if they don’t lead to any significant medical problems.

        A 0.02% chance of dying doesn’t worry me in the slightest. But a 10% chance of some debilitating, chronic effect would worry me.

        1. I don’t think cases are very relevant either, but hospitalizations are relevant and right now, it’s the unvaccinated who are entering the hospital.

          1. Let the news get out: when the hospitals begin to overflow, the vaccinated have first dibs on the rooms. Those people on gurneys in the hallways or stuck in the converted parking garage? Yeah, that’ll be you, Mr. and Mrs. Can’t-Make-Me-Cuz-Freedumb.

        2. It’s the possibility of a chronic condition that concerned me. I cycle a lot for transportation and recreation, and the thought of a permanent reduction in lung capacity from Covid-19 is my biggest concern with getting the virus.

          That said, I would have gotten the vaccination ASAP even if I wasn’t worried about that. But I guess I’m a sheep, according to the right wing anti-vax nutters.

  18. Probably better than my idea. I want to hold a large anti-vax rally and hire a couple of dozen of the zoo employees who dart large animals to dart all the attendees.

  19. I was vaccinated in May. I just tested positive today. I have flu like symptoms. I had only stopped masking about 3 weeks ago and the only places I’ve gone are the supermarket and some take out places.

    1. Oh man, that sucks. Sorry to hear about your breakthrough case. Do you know if it’s Delta? I stopped masking about 4 weeks ago, but started masking again about a week ago. I hope you feel better soon.

      1. I think it’s a good idea, but at this point I have the attitude of “any port in a storm.” But as others have noted, it’s such a political/tribal issue, that millions simply won’t get a vaccine unless they are physically forced to get one. I’m happy that NYC is making vaccinations a mandate if you want to do anything in the City. Hopefully it will work and other large cities will follow their lead.

      2. Thanks. I don’t know if it’s Delta. It was an instant test that a local Episcopal church. While healthcare professionals gave the test, I don’t think there was an actual doctor present. I’m supposed to get a call from a county agency hopefully with more information.

    2. For most vaccines in use today we have spent a long time figuring out the necessary doses required to get optimal antibody levels to produce immunity in the vast majority of people. With the rush to produce Covid vaccines at a level necessary to cover the entire population this has not been possible, at least not yet. The antibody levels produced by the mRNA and Adenoviral vaccines are quite low compared to many other vaccines in use against other diseases and are certainly far lower than those produced by the Novavax covid-19 protein component vaccine. Recent studies have shown that a third dose of Pfizer or Moderna results in a huge increase in antibody levels so that the mRNA vaccines can elicit the level of antibodies that should result in immunity. At the moment 2 doses of the vaccines in use is sufficient to protect most people, but clearly its not enough for many. There could be 30% of double dosed vaccinated people who are currently susceptible to delta because their antibody levels are insuffeciently high. This, combined with the non-vaxxed group, leaves large gaps in the herd immunity wall we need. I suspect that we are going to have to forget about convincing the 30-40% who currently refuse vaccination, and instead give a third dose to the rest of us. This, in combination with the natural immunity that the non-vaxxed will get when they are infected in the delta wave, should be enough to bring the pandemic to an end.

  20. In New Zealand hiking the price of cigarettes was most effective at bringing down smoking rates. So, conversely, to encourage vaccination some form of reward may be needed.

    1. Yep, I agree that “to encourage vaccination some form of reward may be needed.” A Benjamin for each shot–I know, those of us who have already been jabbed will have done it for nothing; so be it. Maybe we can get ours for a booster shot.

        1. Of course they are!! 🙂 And they steal a bunch of my earnings every year [never mind that I get a bunch of it back each year via SS] And they make me drive on the right side of the road and expect me to be sober. And on and on.

  21. A known effective measure is direct contact from a trusted person, like your doctor. So a campaign to get messages out from everyones’ doctor.
    Also since this has been a polarizing issue, getting messages out from politicians and celebrities and sports figures. To help persuade those on the right, these voices should be republican politicians calling peoples’ homes. Country music singers, pastors, and Nascar race drivers.

  22. I saw one of these news interviews with a lady who said her young child had suffered terribly with COVID. The interviewer asked her if she herself was going to get vaccinated. She said, “No. I don’t trust the government.” It’s going to be hard to reach some folks. My theory is that they are going to have to see people they know get sick and die and others who survive the vaccination. Perhaps one of the biggest reasons to promote vaccine mandates is that it lets others know who amongst their local group has gotten vaccinated.

  23. Those kind of “scare” ads started in Australia in the 1980s regarding drunk driving, then AIDS, then smoking – all graphic as hell. Generally people just block them out, esp. with smoking where PRICE is the thing that stops people smoking according to the psych literature.
    However, that is just for smoking – the above are all different problems. I’ve seen no data on how effective the ads were on other things and so I think your idea is a good one. They’d be cheap to make (hell, they could use the ones the Aussies are probably using now, just dub the accents.)
    WELL worth a try I say.

  24. I think this approach seems compelling to people who are already vaccinated. What’s the true impact on the target audience? I fear the only motivators are money and inconvenience. 1) Allow insurance companies to either deny coverage or have a 50% copay for any Covid related care in adults who were candidates for the vaccine and refused. 2) Require proof of vaccination for concerts, indoor dining, indoor gyms. BTW, this week I’m joining a company that requires all employees to be vaccinated and I couldn’t be more relieved.

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