Vaccine Hesitancy: Cities Fighting Back

Cities and counties are fighting against vaccine hesitancy caused by misinformation. How can local leaders overcome this major roadblock?

09/07/2021
5 minutes
Zuzana Pison

After being one of the global leaders in vaccine rollout in April 2021, vaccination rates across the U.S. are now slowing down. In April, the U.S. was injecting almost four million doses each day. Today, the figures are down to approximately 450,000 per day.

As cities and counties work on speeding up the vaccinations, resident hesitancy is proving to be one of the major roadblocks to overcome. Although all of the available vaccines received emergency authorization by the FDA, most of them are still not fully approved, which can discourage some people. Misinformation on social media is another major factor discouraging people from getting their jab, which the Biden administration has also condemned.

Anti-Vax Content Online

The Center for Countering Digital Hate launched a report titled ‘The Disinformation Dozen’, showing how 12 influential anti-vaxxers are responsible for 65 percent of anti-vax information across all social media platforms. The analysis also shows that 20 anti-vaxxers with the largest followings account for more than two-thirds of the total following of 59.2 million across all platforms.

The U.S. government has been pushing social media companies to address the fake news, blaming them for not doing enough to moderate misleading content.  In March, CEOs of Google, Facebook, and Twitter appeared before Congress to face scrutiny over misinformation on their platforms, and the pressure is further mounting.

Twelve influential anti-vaxxers are responsible for 65 percent of anti-vaccine content on Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, and Twitter.

While the efforts to curb the power of Big Tech are in full swing both in the U.S.  and in the E.U., the anti-vaccine content online is an extremely critical issue, and the time is ticking. Before the legislators address the deeply entrenched systemic issues, there are some steps that local governments can take to boost the lagging vaccination rates.

Local Action

As the highly contagious Delta variant is spreading fast, getting the world’s population vaccinated against the Covid-19 couldn’t be more urgent. Cities and counties across the US are coming up with creative ways to motivate residents to get their jab.

Cash incentives have been amongst the most popular methods. A $5 million “Vax-a-Million” Lottery in Chicago led to increased numbers of vaccinated across all age groups. Detroit has been giving out  $50 prepaid debit cards to anyone who drives their friends or family members to get their vaccination. Across the country, Los Angeles County opened the largest vaccine incentive program in the U.S, totaling  $116.5 million.

Cities are also partnering up with local businesses and service providers in their effort to reach the ‘herd immunity’. Chicago’s city hall has also launched programs such as ‘Vax Pass’ so that vaccinated people can attend summer events and  ‘Vax and Relax,” partnering with barbershops and salons. Similarly, vaccinated New Yorkers can receive special seating and cheaper or free tickets to upcoming sports games.

While these incentive programs are a great way to tackle vaccine hesitancy head-on, t is important to get residents on board to do them properly. In an ideal scenario, the local population should be involved in program design before launch, so the city leaders truly understand their concerns regarding the vaccine and cater to their needs.

Disproportionate Impact

As the summer months are looming to an end, the fast spread of the highly contagious Delta variant is causing the number of infected to rise once again, largely among unvaccinated people. People of color and vulnerable communities remain disproportionately affected by the virus and struggle to get vaccinated. The reasons for their hesitancy include lack of education, barriers to access, and vaccine misinformation on social media.

The U.S. government has been pushing social media companies to address the fake news, blaming them for not doing enough to moderate misleading content.

Data published by the Kaiser Family Foundation in August show that 58 percent of White Americans have received at least one dose. At the same time, only 10 percent of Black people and 17 percent of Hispanic people can say the same, which shows the extent of the inequality. The research also shows that both Black and Hispanic people have received smaller vaccination shares than their cases.

While we have seen remarkable progress in getting more and more people vaccinated over the past months, vaccination coverage remains uneven across the country. Building trust in the vaccines and improving access to them remains the key priority for the upcoming fall for government leaders across the whole country.

To-Do List for Cities

What can the local government do to create actionable strategies tackling vaccine hesitancy? Some of the key pillars of an effective action include:

  1. Stop misinformation early on – feel free to read our blog post, which includes some concrete tips on how to deal with fake news when you’re part of a city communications team dealing with vaccine misinformation.
  2. Get resident feedback to get them on board with your city’s vaccination strategy. If cities truly know their residents’ needs and concerns regarding the vaccine, they can create incentive programs that are more likely to really work in amping up the vaccine rollout.
  3. Based on resident feedback, launch and support incentive programs to boost vaccination rates. Motivate residents to get their jab by launching a cash lottery, offer vouchers and discount deals in collaboration with local restaurants and businesses.
  4. Address vaccine inequality.  Cities should focus on making vaccine access more convenient to advance vaccination rates among people of color and vulnerable communities.  Launching targeted education campaigns and working closely with community leaders and influencers can make a difference.

When tackling vaccine hesitancy, online tools such as Simplicity can help collect resident feedback when local authorities create incentive programs. The platform also serves as a direct communication channel between residents and the city hall, a powerful tool in tackling vaccine-related misinformation swirling on social media.