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March 29, 2021

'A one-size-fits-all approach will not suffice': The Biden administration's new plan to fight vaccine hesitancy

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    The Biden administration is planning a localized campaign to reach vaccine-hesitant populations through community leaders and groups—even as newly reported data casts doubt on a separate administration effort to distribute vaccine doses more equitably.

    Toolkit: Covid-19 vaccine communications readiness assessment

    Biden admin launches new localized vaccine outreach campaign

    Senior Biden administration officials said the administration will launch the campaign to promote Covid-19 vaccinations by working with community groups and others to reach populations who are hesitant to receive Covid-19 vaccines, the Wall Street Journal reports.

    The White House did not provide a budget for the campaign, but administration officials said the campaign's funding would come largely from the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package signed into law by President Biden earlier this month, the Journal reports. According to the Journal, a significant portion of the campaign's messaging budget will be allocated for localized outreach, and a smaller share will go toward advertisements via digital media, print, radio, and television.

    The federal government will enlist the support of clergy and community-based organizations—including hospital associations and agricultural, civic, and business groups—to highlight the importance of Covid-19 vaccines through canvassing, local advertising, town halls meetings, and other activities in underserved communities. The campaign will be centered on the slogan "We Can Do This."

    "A one-size-fits-all approach will not suffice here," said Marcella Nunez-Smith, head of the Covid-19 Health Equity Task Force, a group created by Biden to address the epidemic's disproportionate effect on certain communities. 

    Data suggests community vaccination centers are underperforming

    The new campaign comes as senior administration officials have started to raise questions about the effectiveness of a separate Biden administration effort to distribute vaccines more equitably: federally supported community vaccination centers, Politico reports.

    Since Biden was inaugurated on January 20, the federal government has delivered millions of Covid-19 vaccine doses to 21 pilot community vaccination centers run by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in California, Florida, Illinois, Massachusetts, New York, Texas, and other states, Politico reports.

    However, FEMA data obtained by Politico shows the community vaccination centers—which include arenas, convention centers, and stadiums—are administering Covid-19 vaccine doses at a slower rate than the thousands of retail pharmacies participating in the federal government's vaccination campaign.

    According to internal FEMA briefing documents and data sets obtained by Politico, the community vaccination centers have administered 1.7 million vaccine doses since the beginning of February and, over the past two weeks, have administered 67,000 doses per day.

    In comparison, the federal retail pharmacy program on March 11 reported administering nearly 1 million doses in a single day and, over the next four days, the program administered more than 5 million additional doses, according to the federal vaccination data obtained by Politico.

    Now, senior White House and FEMA officials are considering whether the federal government should rely on retail pharmacies instead of community centers. "We see enormous potential with the retail pharmacy program," a senior Biden health official said. "More and more pharmacies sign up to distribute each day."

    However, other officials say the community centers can play an important role in reaching traditionally underserved communities, Politico reports.

    Where America's coronavirus epidemic stands

    The administration is grappling with these questions as recent data indicates the number of coronavirus cases is climbing once again.

    Experts say cases are rising in part due to new, more contagious coronavirus variants. "We know it's a race between vaccinations [and] variants," Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health, wrote in a tweet. "Well, despite phenomenal vaccination rates, variants pulled ahead this week."

    According to data compiled by the Times, the United States' average daily number of newly reported coronavirus cases over the past week was 63,199—up by 15% compared with the average from two weeks ago.

    The Times' data showed that, as of Monday morning, the rates of newly reported coronavirus cases were "staying high" in Washington D.C., the U.S. Virgin Islands, and 25 states that have reported a daily average of at least 15 newly reported cases per 100,000 people over the past week. Those states are Alaska, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Vermont, Virginia, and West Virginia.

    In addition, the rate of newly reported coronavirus cases was "going up" as of Monday morning in Hawaii, Montana, Puerto Rico, and Washington, which have had comparatively lower case rates, the Times reports.

    Even as cases are increasing, new hospitalizations and deaths are continuing to decline. According to the Times' data, 40,325 Americans with Covid-19 were hospitalized on Sunday—down by 5% from the average from two weeks ago. Further, 487 new deaths were linked to the coronavirus on Sunday, down 29% from the average two weeks ago.

    (Siddiqui/Armour, Wall Street Journal, 3/26; Banco, Politico, 3/29; Higgins-Dunn, CNBC, 3/28; Owens, Axios, 3/29; Huang, NPR, 3/28; Mandavilli, New York Times, 3/28; New York Times, 3/29).

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