It’s too early to start handing out trophies, but I started thinking the other night about the people, organizations and institutions that have distinguished themselves during the pandemic. The exercise was kickstarted when I happened upon Tyler Perry’s half-hour BET special, during which he presented a straightforward, powerful case for vaccination to an audience that remains very much on the fence about accepting it.
The special was a true act of public service and perhaps the most effective leveraging of one’s celebrity and/or influence we’ve seen since COVID-19 entered our collective midst. It’s unlikely we’ll be able to quantify its direct impact, but I gotta think that this did quite a lot to move us forward as a population. Thank you, Mr. Perry.
So now I’m curious: Who or what else used their platform to meaningful effect during the pandemic? Send me your picks and I’ll share some of ‘em in next week’s newsletter.
This week’s Haymarket Media Coronavirus Briefing is 1,926 words and will take you eight minutes to read.
Not that anyone thought we’d see immediate change when a new COVID-19 response team was handed the reins, but it’s still frustrating that many of the larger obstacles remain stubbornly in place. We’ll get past them with sheer will power.
- The mass-vaccination process will stress-test supermarkets and pharmacies in a way they’ve never been tested before. Moving from selling Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups to executing a large-scale public-health project represents a significant leap. Are they up to it?
- The first sentence of the headline to this story is head-slappingly bad, because it focuses on the exception rather than the rule and, in the process, fuels skepticism. The second sentence redeems it. Dare I suggest there’s a middle ground?
- Here’s a headline from unofficial Haymarket Media Coronavirus Briefing pollster CivicScience that’s clear although something of a bummer, given that we need to keep the trajectory pointing skyward: “Coronavirus Vaccine Intent Plateaus.” Other CivicScience learnings from the last week include that a post-vaccine activity spike may have already commenced and that there’s pent-up demand for cars in the pandemic’s wake.
- Pfizer spent months attempting to extract a sixth dose from its vaccine vials. Every time we forget there’s a huge logistical component to this effort, we’re reminded yet anew.
- The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration posted information about the “phases of disaster” on its website. It feels like we’re still in “impact” vis-à-vis the pandemic. I’m not particularly looking forward to “disillusionment,” especially given that plenty of people occupied that particular headspace way before last March.
- California’s vaccine rollout has lagged other states, both large and small. The state’s food and agricultural workers are at high risk of death from COVID-19. San Francisco sued its own school district for failing to reopen schools. The California-is-the-bastion-of-effective-progressive-leadership narrative has taken a beating during the pandemic.
- What an emotional throat-punch of a lede. Nearly 11 months into this thing, we continue to fail our essential workers.
- McKnight’s Long-Term Care News’ Alicia Lasek reports on a Hearing Loss Association of America/Cochlear study which found that face masks are an anxiety-provoking obstacle to many individuals with hearing loss.
- Current transmission of COVID-19 in the U.S. is being driven by adults between the ages of 20 and 49. Come on, kids – you’re old enough to know better. I’m cutting your allowance this week. Go to your room.
- Anti-maskers have united with anti-vaxxers to create a coalition around “health freedom.” Meanwhile, the anti-vaxxer protest that shut down the Dodger Stadium vaccination site was organized on Facebook. I’m not trying to go all fascist/authoritarian on y’all, but maybe there is such a thing as too much freedom?
The takeaway: The difference between the roadblocks of March 2020 and those of February 2021: We can readily identify a great majority of the current ones.
In the wake of research that Super Bowl parties will largely be put on hold this year, what are everybody’s plans for Sunday? Here, we’ll eat until our pants cry out for mercy and get cruelly (yet fairly) maligned as a purveyor of Dad Jokes when we rehash the Super Bowl/Superb Owl bit from years past. Some things never change, nor should they.
- The NFL debunked the “coronavirus gospel” of within-six-feet-for-more-than-15 minutes faster than most anyone else, and was able to play a full season as a result. It still feels premature to start issuing postmortems on “How the NFL Navigated Through a Pandemic and Made It to the Finish Line of a Historic Season,” though. Imagine if Patrick Mahomes tests positive between now and Sunday?
- Defector parses the league’s COVID data. The Baltimore Ravens placed the most players on the COVID-19/Reserve list and still made the playoffs.
- Per PRWeek’s Natasha Bach, brand teams spend their Super Bowl Sundays in “brand war rooms.” Are there brand powder rooms? Brand boudoirs?
- At the Michigan Stadium vaccination site, they’re keeping score.
- Masks are mandated in Tampa’s Super Bowl “event zone” and entertainment districts. If the Chiefs win, players and coaches and fans will have to make do without a victory parade. Here’s hoping the raft of “I’m proud of you, dear” texts from their grandmothers will prove a worthy adulatory alternative.
- Which of these three inclusions in the just-published health and safety rulebook for the happening-no-matter-what Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games feels least motivated by COVID-related concerns: The restrictions on visiting outside bars or restaurants, the advice around health-simpatico cheering, high-fives and the Olympian equivalent of Lambeau Leaps; or the guidance around masks bearing the logos of non-sponsors?
The information infrastructure
At the start of the pandemic, we were flooded with information, most of it wildly speculative in nature (and, with 20/20 hindsight, wrong). We’re not distinguishing ourselves yet with communication around vaccines – read Haymarket Media’s most excellent and thorough Vaccine Project Newsletter for more on that – but we’re on the right path.
- Apparently we need to remind people not to post images of their COVID vaccination records or to publicize that they cut the vaccine line or otherwise didn’t adhere to the spirit of the prioritization order. Common sense can and should be taught in schools.
- Campaign deputy editor Gemma Charles proposes that the ad industry should “get creative to beat the anti-vaxxers.” Before too long, vaccine supply is going to catch up with and surpass demand; we need to start courting the skeptics today.
- As of Monday, more Americans have received at least one vaccine shot than have tested positive for COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic. That’s a welcome trend, certainly, but maybe not the cause for celebration that the people who juxtaposed the two data sets intended.
- In the wake of promising fourth-quarter results, Publicis will pay back some of its senior people for salary reductions they voluntarily accepted during the pandemic, Gideon Spanier reports in Campaign.
- In a conversation with Campaign’s Raahil Chopra, I-Com Global founder and chairman Andreas Cohen doubts the viability of in-person events like Cannes Lions during 2021.
- In MM+M, Morgan Ribera assesses the pharma industry’s COVID-era health equity awakening. The effort is there, if not the immediate results.
- MM+M also shares a handful of outtakes from its COVID-19 Health Media Report Card.
- And then there were five: MPR’s Brian Park reports that AstraZeneca’s COVID vaccine prevents serious illness and may reduce transmission rates. Can the Nobel folks hand out more than a single award in the category of Physiology or Medicine?
- In McKnight’s Senior Living, Amy Novotney reports on a virtual Q&A with American Health Care Association/National Center for Assisted Living president and CEO Mark Parkinson, during which he predicted an imminent rebound for the skilled nursing industry.
- A trio of communication-savvy health heavy hitters – Dr. Anthony Fauci, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director Dr. Rochelle Walensky and media/policy wonk Andy Slavitt – are taking over the White House COVID-19 Response Team’s Twitter feed on Thursday, presumably to answer our questions rather than delight us with Bernie memes.
The takeaway: We’ve sounded this note before, but we’re smarter than we were and not as smart as we’ll be. Directional momentum is very much on our side. Go, team.
THREE QUESTIONS WITH… W2O president, WCG Elyse Margolis
How would you assess communications and messaging around the vaccination effort so far?
In a word, uneven. If we take anything away from the pandemic in terms of lessons learned around effective communications, it can be boiled down to three words: factual, accessible and agile. The story isn’t always an easy one to tell, but distrust is borne and thrives in an environment of confusion and backpedaling. In moments where experts were able to get ahead of questions – for example, around expected common side effects of the vaccine and rare adverse events – our messages had the benefit of context, which builds understanding and thereby trust. In areas where data informed strategy and enabled quick response to changing dynamics we’ve also seen better outcomes.
What are the areas in which those efforts could stand to improve?
We should be looking at both accessibility of the message (is it clear and simple? are we providing parallels that the majority of people will understand?) and balancing that with agility – getting ahead of issues that we know are complex and, frankly, scary for many. We’re seeing the story around variants play out in real time as the scientific body of evidence continues to expand. This is a moment where we need to challenge and pressure-test the difference between transparency and accessibility. If we can pass the accessibility test and start to see stakeholders better anticipate and get ahead of the big looming questions, we’ll be moving in the right direction.
What are the first things you plan to do after you receive the COVID vaccine? And after the pandemic lifts?
This is an easy one: Pack my bags, and travel and get back out into the world. It will be a joyous day when I can stand in a bustling town I’ve never been to, watching people doing normal, everyday things – exhaling and finally having that lasting sense of peace and levity again.
(Are you smart? Do you know someone who is? If so, please reach out to Larry.Dobrow@haymarketmedia.com with nominations for potential “Three Questions With…” respondents)
- Doonesbury does vax envy.
- Stanley Plotkin is 88. He literally wrote the textbook on vaccines. He found it nigh impossible to navigate the COVID vaccine process.
- For Medical Bag (and its nascent Spotify channel), the multitalented Jack Sonni curates a trio of music playlists for orthopedic surgeons. Very cool – now do anesthesiologists. Play Bertha!
- Imagine trying to explain everything that has happened since last March to somebody who just emerged from a 10-month coma. “Where were we, May? Oh, okay. That’s when the President of the United States told everyone to inject bleach…”
…and some songs.
There are 18 inches of snow on the ground (storms only count if they happen in or around northeast media hotbeds), but the infection and mortality numbers are finally heading in the right direction. I’ll make that trade. Catch you back here next week.