As the first approved coronavirus vaccine arrives in the U.K. this week, the next phase of the fight to contain the deadly virus will fall squarely in the laps of government leaders and health officials.
On the one hand, there are the nitty gritty logistical details involved with procuring, transporting, storing and disseminating hundreds of millions — if not billions — of doses. On the other, there’s the more nuanced task of shoring up public confidence to ensure people are willing to step forward and be injected with a promising vaccine that has limited safety data.
But as PYMNTS research has quantified, the economy cannot get close to pre-pandemic levels without the vaccine. According to PYMNTS’ The Great Reopening report, U.S. consumers said they think their normal routines will be disrupted for longer than originally expected, and the average consumer is still highly concerned about the risks of leaving home. In terms of a vaccine, PYMNTS analysis shows that 48.8 percent of consumers required a vaccine to be available before they would return to their routines, up from 40.5 percent on March 27 and 39.7 percent on March 17.
After receiving the shot himself, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson held a press conference to celebrate the milestone but also to caution his fellow Brits — and the watching world — that the COVID nightmare is far from over.
“[There will be] immense logistical challenges,” Johnson said, warning that it will be several more long, cold months until all the vulnerable have been injected. “So, it’s all the more vital that, as we celebrate this scientific achievement, we’re not carried away with over-optimism or fall into the naive belief that the struggle is over.”
Convincing the First 2 Percent
So far, the U.K. is the first western nation to officially approve the vaccine, and it will receive the first 800,000 doses next week, or 2 percent of an overall 40 million dose order it placed with Pfizer and BioNTech. Additional shipments, as well as alternative vaccine versions from Moderna and AstraZeneca, are expected shortly thereafter.
Public health experts have said 60 percent to 75 percent of the population needs to be inoculated to ensure sufficient coverage and immunity, and they are developing plans to shore up public support.
To do so, the U.K.’s National Health Service is looking to recruit sensible, well-known and respected celebrities to spread the word that people should get the shot as soon as it becomes available to them.
British media reports have discussed recruiting famous local athletes, religious leaders, respected social media influencers with large followings on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter, and even members of the royal family to help get the word out.
The Prime Minister was the first to jumpstart the cause.
“We’re no longer resting on the mere hope that we can return to normal next year in the spring, but rather the sure and certain knowledge that we will succeed and together reclaim our lives and all the things about our lives that we love,” Johnson said.
The public influence effort comes as studies have shown 15 percent of the public would be reluctant to get a vaccine until they were certain it was safe. However, other anecdotal reports suggest the number of skeptics is much higher, to a level that could undermine the vaccine’s efficacy.
According to a report, Jacqueline Totterdell, CEO of St. George’s hospital trust in London, “some of the polls we’ve done around southwest London show that as little as 50 percent of people are willing just to have it” without further safety assurances. “We might all think people might be rushing to have it, but actually we might find that’s not quite the case.”
A separate U.S. study released in October found that social media influencers could increase knowledge and positive attitudes toward the flu vaccine, especially within the high-risk Black and Latino communities. Results showed “significant increases in positive beliefs about the flu vaccine, and significant decreases in negative community attitudes toward the vaccine,” researchers reported, noting the best results were achieved when celebrities were allowed to use their own “look and feel,” words and style of communication.
“This study suggests that flu campaigns using a ground-up rather than top-down approach can feasibly reach at-risk groups with lower vaccination rates, and shows the potentials of using an influencer-based model to communicate information about flu vaccination on a large scale,” the study said.