With questions, rumors and misinformation rampant about the COVID-19 vaccines, West Virginia is launching a $260,000 media campaign to promote getting vaccinated.
“I think this is going to be one of the biggest public health campaigns we’ve seen in our lifetimes,” Elaine Darling, program director for the nonprofit Center For Rural Health Development, said of the national Centers for Disease Control-funded media campaign.
The CDC has funded $260,000 for West Virginia’s campaign, which will be coordinated by the center on behalf of the West Virginia Immunization Network, a coalition of more than 400 public and private sector representatives that focuses on improving state vaccination rates.
Darling said the center has contracted with Digital Relativity, a Fayetteville-based advertising agency, to develop the campaign.
She said the campaign will roll out in phases, to coincide with different groups becoming eligible for vaccinations at different times, beginning with health care providers and nursing home residents and staff.
“The campaign will be implemented essentially in phases to make sure we’re reaching the specific audiences,” Darling said.
“We’ll be using a variety of digital platforms and traditional media as well — TV, radio, billboards, social media,” she said. “And we’ll be working with the West Virginia Press Association for newspapers.”
Pat Strader, CEO of Digital Relativity, said the campaign will be flexible to adjust to the various phases of vaccinations, and to questions and concerns that are likely to come up during the implementation process.
“The basic core concept is going to be centered around the theme of “community immunity,” he said.
Unlike a typical advertising campaign, which is trying to reach a targeted audience, the campaign will be aimed at reaching all West Virginians, he said.
“We’re trying to reach as many individuals as we can,” said Strader, who said Digital Relativity has experience with that, having overseen a media campaign encouraging West Virginians to participate in the U.S. Census.
While the firm specializes in digital platforms and social media, the campaign will use traditional media as well to reach the largest possible audience, he said.
Strader agreed that a key challenge with this campaign will be to overcome qualms, false rumors, and misinformation about the COVID-19 vaccines.
“One of the key points of what we’re trying to accomplish is not to persuade people, but to simply make sure the information people are looking for is available to them,” Strader said.
That includes answering questions about the FDA approval process, and about availability and cost of the vaccinations.
He said the campaign will be able to pivot and adjust as it moves through the various priority phases and, ultimately, into availability to the general public.
Under a timetable unveiled by Gov. Jim Justice last week, the general public optimistically will be able to begin getting vaccinations by mid-March 2021.