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Image: COVID-19 Vaccine
COVID-19 vaccines are prepared for use at the Portland Veterans Affairs Medical Center on Dec. 16, 2020 in Portland, Ore.Nathan Howard / Getty Images

The problem with Team Trump's vaccine public-education campaign

The administration, which could've begun work on this in the spring, still hasn't finalized plans for a public-information campaign about a vaccine.


Efforts to develop a coronavirus vaccine began several months ago, and though it was difficult to say with confidence when needles would start reaching shoulders, the Trump administration had plenty of time to come up with a public-education campaign.

But officials do not appear to have used their time wisely. The New York Times reported this week:

The Trump administration, scrambling to make up for lost time after a halting start, is rushing to roll out a $250 million public education campaign to encourage Americans to take the coronavirus vaccine, which will reach the first patients in the United States this week.

The article added that focus groups "devised to help officials fine-tune the advertising to tailor it to hard-hit communities will begin on Tuesday."

That's Tuesday, as in a couple of days ago. Radio ads, meanwhile, are "still being developed."

A Washington Post report added, "Documents obtained by House Democrats show that HHS had been working to develop a promotional campaign that would include numerous star cameos, but under [Michael] Caputo's leadership, special attention was paid to whether potential celebrity spokespeople were supporters of President Trump. Contractors provided the agency with a spreadsheet listing the confirmed or suspected political leanings of hundreds of performers."

In case this isn't obvious, shaping public perceptions about something of this scale is difficult and takes concerted effort. Polls suggest malleable skepticism about the vaccine, which public-health officials still hope to see change. As Rachel noted on the show the other day, "Building confidence and trust in a big vaccination effort isn't something you can manufacture overnight."

All of which makes it extraordinary that the administration, which could've begun work on this in the spring, still hasn't finalized plans for a public-information campaign.

Public relations has been one of the few things Team Trump has actually taken seriously in recent years. And yet, here we are.