Andrea Palmer has an intimate understanding of the shortage of COVID-19 vaccines. Her 90-year-old grandmother, who lives in an independent-living facility, was recently told it wouldn’t be a problem for her to get an appointment for her first dose—in May. She might be one of the lucky ones. Palmer has friends whose elderly family members have been informed they won’t get their shots until June.
“It’s super inconsistent,” said Palmer, president of Publicis Health Media in Chicago.
That is an understatement.
Scores of multimillion-dollar ad campaigns on the city, state and federal level have emerged to persuade the public, especially the most vulnerable and underserved communities, to get inoculated against COVID. Vaccine marketing assignments have been fat new business wins for ad agencies amid the pandemic. High-profile efforts have been announced by the Ad Council, along with local efforts by Philadelphia agency Brownstein, San Francisco’s Duncan Channon, which nabbed a $40 million assignment for California, and others. WPP Group is about to unfurl a $115 million-plus effort to promote the vaccines nationally on behalf of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Business Insider reports.
And yet the glaring scarcity of vaccines is what dominates the national conversation, as people waiting in long lines for shots has become a familiar sight on cable news.
A new Gallup poll indicates that two-thirds of Americans are unhappy with how the coronavirus vaccine rollout has been run, including 21 percent who say they are “very dissatisfied.”
The situation has led to “an every-man-for-himself mentality,” said Palmer, who wonders what the solution is to the disparity between the well-intentioned public awareness push and the lack of product. “What is the role of retailers, of institutions, of state and federal governments?” she asks. “There are so many different opinions about who is in control that no one is in control, or so it seems.”
It’s led many to take matters into their own hands. Facebook and Twitter accounts keep popping up to broadcast well-kept-secret vaccine spots. (One Twitter account out of New Jersey, called “Vaxx Updates,” has amassed more than 13,000 followers in just over two weeks.) Many other vaccine chasers are flying off to neighboring states where they hear there’s a surplus. There may be a light on the horizon, as national drugstore chains like CVS and Walgreens will start to receive supplies of the vaccines this week, and some are already promoting that fact. Meanwhile, Uber recently announced that it will provide free rides to Walgreens stores for those in underserved communities getting the vaccine.