Kristi Weyand
Deputy Editor

It is not news that American’s trust in the government is at an all time low, but what about American’s trust in influencers? Scientists estimate that herd immunity from COVID-19 will require at least 70 to 80 percent of Americans getting vaccinated, yet a new survey found that 32 percent of Americans, definitely or probably, will not get a COVID-19 vaccination. Perhaps our only hope in influencing that statistic enough to reach herd immunity is . . . influencers. Between culinary, fitness, celebrity, and general social media influencers, we may be able to achieve enough unity to reach a consistent ‘new normal.’

Martha Stewart, Ian McKellen, Prue Leith, Vice President Kamala Harris, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and Marco Rubio are just a few of the public figures who shared their vaccination with social media. However, this is not the first time influencers have gotten involved with public health messaging when literal death and chronic health conditions were not convincing enough. While ‘influencer’ may not have been the term used then, looking back to the rollout of the polio vaccine provides some hope for persuading stubborn Americans to reconsider getting vaccinated. When Elvis Presley posed with his sleeve rolled up and a New York State official injected the polio vaccine into his arm on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1956, the hope was that his suave smile would inspire American youth to get the vaccine themselves. Presley’s charm (while having a needle jabbed in his arm) was so irresistible that the vaccination rate amongst American teenagers jumped from a bleak 0.6 percent to 80 percent — coincidentally, the percentage for COVID-19 herd immunity, in six months.

Considering Presley’s success, it is not surprising that the Oklahoma City County Health Department partnered with fitness influencers and brothers Cory and Calvin Boling to promote public health precautions over the winter holidays. Both of their posts were labeled as a Paid Partnership with @okchealth and tagged as a #ad. In the caption, Cory encouraged Oklahoma City residents (and his 102,000 followers) to “work together to overcome this by taking precautions like staying home for the holidays, keeping on our masks, and to not fall into pandemic fatigue during these crazy times of 2020 so that 2021 can be better!”

The Oklahoma City County Health Department must have viewed this campaign as a success, considering they have since doubled their ad campaign budget to undertake the task of convincing residents to receive their COVID-19 vaccine. While Presely’s vaccination campaign led to a vast majority of the American youth getting vaccinated, it still took six months to see that success reach the number that would achieve herd immunity for COVID-19. Now, public health departments must rely on mostly hope and desperation to fuel these ad campaigns until we can see data regarding the successes of the campaigns.

The real crux of the matter increases complexities: we no longer have an Elvis Presely. Nearly every public figure has done something to annoy some niche (or not so niche) community. Who would have the reach to convince the 32 percent of Americans who likely will not want to receive the vaccine to change their minds? Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson? Keanu Reeves? Meryl Streep? This is also assuming that enough of that percentage is actively keeping up with some kind of influencer and, if they do, will an influencer promoting the vaccine undo the damage of potential vaccine misinformation that people spread on social media? A study conducted before the COVID-19 pandemic ravaged the U.S. and many other parts of the world found that individuals who received their information from social media were more likely to believe a common (and dangerous) myth regarding vaccinations than those who used traditional media.

Yet, not all hope is lost. A more recent study found that fact-checking labels on social media can help fight the spread of COVID-19 misinformation. Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter all have policies in place that detail COVID-19 misinformation and have banners that flag posts that are potentially spreading misinformation. If these measures are enough to dissuade the influence of misinformation, influencers may be able to have an edge against individuals considering an ‘anti-vax’ stance. How this may impact those that previous misinformation influenced, such as the over 167 million posts about COVID-19 that Facebook marked as misinformation in 2020, will remain to be seen.

Aubrey Acosta / Quaker Campus

We live in a digital age that is increasingly so in the wake of COVID-19. Our information, social lives, and entertainment mostly live online. While we may not want to admit the role that social media and influencers play in our lives, it is not new; it has just evolved. If influencers are able to close the percentage between those who do not want the vaccine and those we need to get the vaccine to reach herd immunity, this is the step we need to take. However, we should focus on the more pressing problem at hand: those who are eligible for the vaccine may not even know how to receive it due to flawed rollouts. Plus, glitches in the system may be handing out vaccines to people before the most vulnerable communities receive it, even though the doses were allocated for those communities.

Confusion is common among most eligible recipients, with 6 in 10 elderly patients unaware of when and where they can receive their vaccine — the same can be said for 55 percent of essential workers and 21 percent of healthcare workers. In California, a new program was created to distribute the vaccine to eligible recipients in hard-hit Black and Latinx communities, but the codes that community organizers distributed to eligible communities were leaked in group chats and into the hands of affluent individuals who were not eligible. Being enthusiastic about receiving the vaccine is no excuse to abuse programs that are intended to boost the historical lack of vaccine inequity in vulnerable Black and Latinx communities.

Maybe that is another, yet-diagnosed symptom of seeing influencers promote vaccinations when it is not readily accessible to all of the public yet: jealousy, and the desire to return to a sense of normalcy. Seeing some influencers continue to party and go out without any regard for current situations gives a sense of privilege to ‘normal’ in these times, although ‘normal’ to the communities that actually should be getting the vaccine might just look like a little less fear when going about essential tasks. Still, patience is hard when we are going on a year since the first COVID-19 guidelines were released in the U.S. and 40 percent of COVID-19 deaths could have been avoided if not for deficient leadership, but there are positives that may be drowned in the negative news.

Farm workers have begun receiving the vaccine in California, with teachers hopefully soon behind them. Approximately 40 percent of inmates in California, a hard-hit demographic across the U.S., have been vaccinated. HIV-positive individuals may be eligible for vaccines in certain areas, as Queer Eye star Jonathan Van Ness promoted in an Instagram post, encouraging those with a positive status to check their eligibility. Now, perhaps the most we can do is hope the influencers that are getting the vaccine will use that impact for good rather than evil. In six months, we can only hope that someone will be able to have the influence Presley had on American youth with the polio vaccine (or the ‘influence’ Black musicians had on Presely’s career) on anti-coronavirus vaccination Americans.

Featured Image: Aubry Acosta / Quaker Campus

Author

  • Kristi Weyand is a third-year double-majoring in English and Political Science with a perhaps-too-hopeful plan to pursue a career in journalism. Her time as the Arts & Entertainment Editor has led to her interest in the intersection of entertainment and ideas generally seen as political, inspiring her way-too-many thinkpieces. When she is not writing, she can be found procrastinating by baking, watching bad movies, over-listening to the same music, and crying over succulents she just can’t seem to keep alive.

Kristi Weyand is a third-year double-majoring in English and Political Science with a perhaps-too-hopeful plan to pursue a career in journalism. Her time as the Arts & Entertainment Editor has led to her interest in the intersection of entertainment and ideas generally seen as political, inspiring her way-too-many thinkpieces. When she is not writing, she can be found procrastinating by baking, watching bad movies, over-listening to the same music, and crying over succulents she just can’t seem to keep alive.

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