Dec 9, 2020 - Health

Trump's departing pandemic failure

Illustration of President Trump walking away from a vaccine bottle.  

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The first Americans will receive a coronavirus vaccine soon, but President Trump has done almost nothing to convince skeptical Americans that they ought to get vaccinated.

Why it matters: The more people who get vaccinated, and the more quickly they do so, the faster and more safely we can all get back to our normal lives. But roughly a third of Americans still say they don't want one.

The big picture: So far, there hasn't been a large-scale national vaccine education campaign, although the administration says one is in the works.

  • Experts say a federal communication effort would be helpful — including Trump's participation.
  • “If you look at communication research, people are going to listen to individuals they consider informed, who are familiar, and who they trust. And for a segment of the U.S. population, that includes President Trump," said Monica Schoch-Spana, a senior scholar with the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security.
  • The communication need goes beyond convincing the public that the coronavirus vaccines are safe, Schoch-Spana said. People also should understand why some groups of people are being prioritized above others and the complexity surrounding multiple vaccines, some of which require more than one dose.

Driving the news: A new Gallup poll suggests that American's opinions on the vaccine are relatively malleable, although Republicans are still less likely to get one.

  • The percentage of Democrats who said they'd take a vaccine dropped as low as 53% in September amid controversy over whether Trump would ram one through the regulatory process. That percentage has since jumped back up to 75%, and 63% of Americans overall say they would get one.
  • But only half of Republicans say they'd get vaccinated. Trump, who holds enormous sway with his base, could theoretically reach some of those people.

The other side: Trump has not been a reliable source of pandemic information over the last nine months, and that's led to some skepticism that his involvement would be helpful.

  • “Respected public icons — and Trump is not one of them — are going to be important to persuade the public to take safe and effective vaccines. But they have to know what they’re talking about," said John Moore, a professor at Cornell University.

What we're watching: The Department of Health and Human Services is launching a $250 million public health education campaign, part of which will focus on vaccine acceptance.

  • The effort "is focused on what we are calling 'the movable middle' – specifically, we are working in support of CDC and others across the department to use public education to move folks who are hesitant about vaccines to acceptance of vaccines - when vaccines are available to the broader public," an HHS spokesperson said.
  • "HHS will initiate education about vaccines and the vaccine development process using digital/social media channels as early as next week," he added.

The bottom line: Vaccine "expectations really need to be set right now, and they should have been set much sooner," Schoch-Spana said.

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