Foundations aim to persuade Americans to get vaccinated

For months, Maria Cristina hesitated to be vaccinated against COVID-19. Her fears came from social media, where she heard a lot of misinformation about the contents of the vaccine and what it might do to her.

The 35-year-old Guatemalan immigrant was confused until one day she called the local Latino Community Center in Pittsburgh to ask how she could better protect herself and her four children, one of whom has cancer. A staff member encouraged her to get the vaccine and shared with her a story about how COVID-19 affected a family: Everyone in the family contracted the virus, they told her, at the except one person – one who has been vaccinated. Cristina says this story helped her decide to take the photo.

“It’s the best decision to take to protect your family,” she said.

Philanthropists hope to replicate stories like Cristina’s by pouring millions into programs to persuade hesitant Americans to get vaccinated. Most new virus infections occur among unvaccinated Americans – nearly 23% of all American adults. They refused to budge, despite calls from officials and offers of lottery prizes and other freebies.

The center that helped Cristina make her decision is one of more than 150 community organizations funded by the CDC Foundation, a charity established by Congress in 1992 to help the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advance their mission. . Since June, it has invested $ 32.7 million in local organizations in 38 states to promote snapshots.

Much of the money came from the CDC itself. Private donors, including the charitable arm of Google and other foundations, also contributed, but fundraising was not easy. The CDC Foundation does not have an endowment, so it relies on donors, many of whom stopped giving when the number of cases plummeted in late spring and early summer, said Judy Monroe, CEO and President. of the foundation. The group strived to get more resources in areas with high viral infection rates as the number of cases increased.

“We need to reach these communities very quickly,” said Monroe.

When disinformation swept in some conservative circles, the Helmsley Charitable Trust began running television and radio commercials in rural counties across seven states, encouraging people to take the picture. Two of its targets – North Dakota and Wyoming – have some of the lowest vaccination rates in the country.

“Sadly this has been so politicized and we see politics getting into something which is a public health decision,” said Walter Panzirer, administrator of Helmsley and grandson of Leona Helmsley, the late hotel mogul who created the association.

“I have heard many people in rural America say that they don’t want their daughters to be vaccinated because they are worried about fertility issues – real misinformation,” said Panzirer. “So we’re trying to correct this misinformation and really say this is a safe and effective shot.”

Over a million dollars were spent on the ads, one of which shows vaccinated people having fun eating out and going to a concert. Another asks Americans to get vaccinated so that “heroes” like doctors and other frontline workers can avoid a major variant-induced health crisis.

Foundations take different approaches since there is no recipe for getting someone to change their mind on this issue. However, a july report published by the Kaiser Family Foundation shows that conversations with family and friends have played a major role in changing attitudes. He found 17% of adults who in January were reluctant to get the vaccine – saying either they didn’t want to be vaccinated, that they wanted to wait or that they would only do it if it was necessary – were persuaded to be vaccinated by a family member. Five percent say they were persuaded by a friend.

Christiane Alexander, a physician who teaches at Florida State University’s College of Medicine, says that sometimes the best approach is a simple conversation where the person is given specific information and a space to reflect on what has been said. And then, coming back to the subject later.

These conversations take place in the Bronx, where the Bronx Rising Initiative begins a typical day of its outreach program on the streets by parking its van in highly concentrated areas of the New York City borough. Then they walk around and ask everyone they find if they are vaccinated or not.

Their conversations usually begin with street vendors, said Jason Autar, the group’s chief operating officer. He often listens to some people voice their fears and concerns about the vaccine, some of which stem from misinformation spread on social media. He then tries to pierce their argument and offer them a $ 50 or $ 100 gift card as an incentive to be vaccinated, which could be administered on the spot.

“At the end of the day, it comes down to trust and the institutions they’re going to trust,” Autar said. “Health care has not necessarily been a priority in this borough. And then all of a sudden the government comes in, or the institutions come in and say “you have to get the vaccine.” There is going to be a disconnect there.

“It will take time,” he added. “There is no miracle solution.”

To date, New York-based nonprofit The Oyate Group has donated $ 2 million to the initiative, which estimates that around 3,000 people have been vaccinated after speaking with a member of their community. team about the vaccine. Autar says they have also partnered with schools and community centers to tap into trusted community messengers during their immunization campaigns.

The Knight Foundation has also focused on finding voices of trust, giving the city of San Jose, Calif., $ 125,000 to hire local influencers on social media to dispel myths and misinformation about vaccines. Similar work is being done through recipients of the New York Community Trust and the Rockefeller Foundation, which have invested $ 33.5 million in virus-related initiatives since April.

About $ 20 million of this amount supports community organizations in five major U.S. cities, with the goal of helping them fight misinformation and establish better access to vaccines in communities where historical mistrust in the health system is high. The rest will be used to help dispel misinformation globally.

Estelle Willie, director of health policy and communications for the foundation, says funding focused on disinformation is necessary because we don’t have the tools to “effectively counter it on a global scale.”


The Associated Press receives support from the Lilly Endowment for coverage of philanthropy and nonprofit organizations. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

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