COVID Vaccine Adoption Creates New Class Of Influencer

Boris Johnson gets his COVID vaccine in public. Three U.S. presidents agree to do the same. The CEO of American Airlines takes his beleaguered 737 Max jet on a maiden voyage. All of it begs the question: What makes for being a good influencer as 2020 comes to a close?

It is a trickier than expected question to answer, given how much our lives have changed over the last eight or so months. Pre-pandemic, the answer was much clearer: Good influencers were usually young, attractive, stylish, well-traveled and so naturally charismatic that simply seeing them doing, wearing or eating something was enough to motivate their hundreds of thousands – or even millions – of social media followers to imitate their behavior.

And as the year that everyone would rather forget is getting ready to pull out of the stations at the end of the month, it seems a very different type of influencer is making the rounds in an attempt to get consumers worldwide to do as they do. They aren’t young, they’re not known for their impeccable personal style and they probably don’t have much to offer in the way of recommendations for the best hotspots in Bali.

But they do have a power that the influencers of yesteryear were not known for: helping people feel safe doing things that might otherwise put them off.

Influencing People Toward a COVID-19 Vaccine

In a sea of bad news about rising case numbers and fatalities, the progress on the vaccine front has been a small island of good news, with three separate firms coming out of trials with vaccines that are at least 90 percent effective against the virus. The problem, according to PYMNTS survey data, is getting people to actually take the vaccine in large enough numbers to achieve herd immunity.

When asked days after the news of the Pfizer vaccine first went public, 38.4 percent of people said they “definitely” or “probably” won’t get vaccinated, outnumbering the 37.9 percent who “strongly” plan to get vaccinated.

“Doctors and epidemiologists say that herd immunity is present when 70 percent of a population has immunity to a disease. To achieve that level with COVID-19, a vaccine with a 90 percent effective rate would require that 80 percent of the population in the U.S. gets vaccinated,” Karen Webster noted in a commentary. “If 38.4 percent of the population won’t get the vaccine, barely half of the 80 percent goal will be met.”

It seems people need some influencing in this direction, and a rather unexpected class of influencers has rolled up – made up of prime ministers and ex-presidents. It seems here in the U.S., we will have our choice of luminary vaccinations to peruse: Former Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush have both announced they will take a coronavirus vaccine once it is available – and may even film it to build confidence in the U.S. about vaccine safety.

“I will be taking it, and I may take it on TV or have it filmed so people know that I trust this science,” Obama told SiriusXM’s “The Joe Madison Show” during an interview that is scheduled to air in full on Thursday (Dec. 3). “What I don’t trust is getting COVID.”

Former President Bush’s aide, Freddy Ford, has also confirmed that the 43rd president has offered to help build public confidence in a COVID vaccine. “First, the vaccines need to be deemed safe and administered to the priority populations. Then, President Bush will get in line for his, and will gladly do so on camera,” Ford said.

There will, however, be a bit of a wait on those vaccines: The FDA will not begin the several-week approval process until they meet on Dec. 19 to begin discussing the Pfizer vaccine. And while health is a growing focus for influencers (more on that in a minute), the practice of tapping luminaries is expanding into other verticals.

Getting Consumers to Give the 737 MAX a Second Chance 

The Boeing 737 Max got a lot of attention after its original launch in 2018, but not the kind that any airplane or airline wants, as it was linked to a series of crashes and was eventually grounded by the FAA over safety concerns.

After over a year on the ground, however, the aircraft is making a comeback, with American Airlines resuming service with the 737 Max by the end of this month. Which, in turn, creates something of a marketing problem. Consumers are already nervous about flying for fear of catching COVID-19, and adding a plane with an unfortunate history of falling out of the sky into the mix isn’t exactly going to improve anyone’s feelings of safety.

Which is likely why the airline is going the extra-mile – quite literally, in this case – to prove that the planes are safe … by putting their executives on them.

“I’ve long said that when American Airlines pilots – who are the best in the business – are comfortable and confident in flying the MAX, so am I. So today, along with my wife Gwen, American’s President Robert Isom and many others, we boarded the MAX at our Tulsa maintenance base with the utmost peace of mind,” American Airlines CEO Doug Parker noted on Instagram.

The post went on to note that safety was the airline’s main commitment, and that in the 20 months that the 737 Max had been grounded, they believe that a lengthy and extensive recertification process has rectified the problems with the craft.

Whether consumers will share that feeling of utmost peace of mind will be tested as the MAX slowly rolls back into service with daily roundtrip flights from Miami.

The Shifting Ground

As the influencing game is shifting from looking and being cool to staying safe and healthy, the effect is rippling down through the market, beyond the rather rarified sphere of CEOs, ex-presidents and sitting heads of state.

Instagram influencer Ashley Haby, who described herself to Fast Company as a “Jesus lover, wifey, blogger and mompreneur,” found herself nudged into health influencing when a Walgreens ad prompted her to begin pushing the flu shot on her “Southern Suds and Simple Living” account.

“I didn’t really go into the benefits of the solution or why you should get the flu shot,” she noted of her pro-flu shot posting. “I wasn’t pushing it down anyone’s throat.”

The campaign, though ultimately discontinued by Walgreens, was also ruled a success by the firm, noting that 40 influencers who signed on motivated an upsurge in vaccinations that season.

Because in 2020, what everyone really wants for Christmas is to be safe, and for their friends and family to be safe. And the person who can tell them how to do that may just end up being the most influential voice on social media this year.

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