The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are—by officials’ own admission—facing significant “communications challenges” with regards to convincing the public to get vaccinated.
This unfortunate situation is partly due to the fact that the prevalence of the Delta variant is causing thousands of breakthrough cases in vaccinated people, which has only exacerbated vaccine hesitance. But the CDC’s comms crisis has also been spurred by the agency’s inability to reach certain groups of people with its messaging—like teenagers.
Enter the influencers.
According to the New York Times, the White House is recruiting an “army” of TikTok stars, Twitch streamers, and YouTube vloggers in hopes that they might convince their fans—many of whom belong to an age group with the lowest vaccination rates—to get the jab and dispel misinformation online in the process. With the same goals in mind, many state and local governments have begun paying micro-influencers as much as $1,000 to spread the word.
The Times reports that the federal effort to enlist influencers began in January, when it occurred to White House officials that they may be able to leverage the same social media strategies they used to win Biden the presidency to get people vaccinated. In June, they began meeting remotely with online creators, equipping them with the information they would need to talk about the vaccine with their followers. Later that month, Olivia Rodrigo met with Biden and Anthony Fauci to launch a campaign aimed at getting more young people vaccinated. (Currently about 58 percent of people ages 12 to 17 in the United States have not received their first shot.)
“The anti-vaccine side of the internet is still set on all this vaccine news,” Samir Mezrahi, an admin of multiple popular meme accounts, told the Times of how anti-vaxxers can dominate social media platforms. But instead of putting out positive messaging about the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine, vaccinated influencers are mostly “posting about J. Lo and Ben Affleck,” Mezrahi said.
The Bennifer content will likely continue, but influencers collaborating with local and federal governments are peppering their feeds with Q+As with Fauci, informational Instagram lives, and vaccine selfies. If their efforts work even a little, the United States will be that much closer to turning covid into a “manageable threat,” in the words of the Times—more endemic than pandemic. Influencer army, rise up!