With COVID-19 cases surging again, a new media campaign to boost vaccination rates in the Finger Lakes region rolled out last week.
The “You Deserve Answers” campaign spans television, radio, online display and social media advertising. It aims to “cut through the noise of polarizing viewpoints on the vaccine,” encouraging residents to go to GetYourAnswers.org for answers from local medical experts to common questions and concerns about the COVID vaccines.
The campaign is a collaborative effort of Causewave Community Partners, Common Ground Health, the Finger Lakes Vaccine Hub and Task Force and Truth Collective, a local marketing firm.
GetYourAnswers.org is part of the Finger Lakes COVID-19 Vaccine Hub website, which provides regional vaccination data and information on vaccination sites.
“This campaign is an important addition to all our efforts to share honest, thorough and true information about the COVID-19 vaccines,” says Nancy Bennett, professor of medicine and public health sciences at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry, and co-chair of the Finger Lakes Vaccine Task Force. “Increasing everyone’s knowledge to the point that they decide to get vaccinated is the only way we can stop this deadly pandemic.”
On Aug. 12, after Monroe County’s level of COVID-19 transmission was rated “high” by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, County Executive Adam Bello and Commissioner of Public Health Michael Mendoza M.D. urged “all eligible residents to get vaccinated NOW if you have not already done so.”
As of that date, 66.8 percent of the Finger Lakes region population aged 12 and older had received at least one dose of a COVID vaccine, with 60.1 percent fully vaccinated, according to Vaccine Hub data. However, vaccination rates vary widely by geography and by race and ethnicity.
Among the region’s nine counties, Monroe County has the highest percentage of people 12 and older who have received at least one vaccine dose—70.9 percent—followed closely by Ontario County, with 70 percent. By contrast, Wyoming County’s rate is only 50 percent, and Genesee, Livingston, Orleans, Seneca and Yates counties all have less than 60 percent of their residents with at least one dose.
Vaccination rates also vary within each county. Five ZIP codes have 90 percent or more of their 12-plus population vaccinated: 14475 (Ionia, Ontario), 14415 (Bellona, Yates), 14604 (Rochester, Monroe), 14586 (West Henrietta, Monroe) and 14534 (Pittsford, Monroe).
Romulus, in Seneca County, has the lowest rate: 28 percent. Four other ZIP codes also have rates of less than 40 percent: 14614 (Rochester, Monroe), 14011 (Attica, Wyoming), 14066 (Gainesville, Wyoming) and 14842 (Himrod, Yates).
The Vaccine Hub data also show racial and ethnic differences. Whites, who make up nearly 82 percent of the Finger Lakes population, account for 75.3 percent of those who have received at least one vaccine dose. Blacks represent 11.7 percent of the regional population, but only 6.8 percent of those with at least one dose. Among the Latino population—7.3 percent of the region’s total—5.5 percent are at least partially vaccinated.
The new campaign’s goal is to “ensure the equitable, transparent, and efficient immunization” of at least 70 percent of the region’s adult residents.
“Like many people we heard from, I too had questions about vaccine safety and testing,” says Wade Norwood, CEO of Common Ground Health and co-chair of the Finger Lakes Vaccine Task Force. “Getting those concerns answered by experts gave me the confidence I needed to get my shot.”
The latest data from the CDC show that among the 12-plus U.S. population, 68.8 percent have received at least one dose and 58.7 percent are fully vaccinated.
Numerous surveys have shown that no single factor explains why those who remain unvaccinated are hesitant or adamantly opposed. Reasons cited include possible side effects, distrust in vaccines or in government, and a belief that getting vaccinated is unnecessary.
The KFF COVID-19 Vaccine Monitor is an ongoing research project tracking attitudes and experiences with COVID vaccinations. Its latest poll, conducted July 15-27, found that among the roughly 30 percent of adults who still are not vaccinated, about a third say they want to “wait and see” how the vaccine works for other people. A quarter of unvaccinated adults—including 45 percent of those who say they want to “wait and see”—say they are likely to get a vaccine before the end of the year. Another 14 percent of the unvaccinated group say they will “definitely not” get a vaccine, a share that KFF says has held relatively steady since December.
In the U.S. Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey, concern about possible side effects ranks as the No. 1 reason why people remain unvaccinated. In data as of July 5, 52 percent of survey participants nationwide who were unvaccinated cited this factor. “Wait and see” was a reason given by 39 percent, and 36 percent said they do not trust COVID vaccines. Roughly a quarter each said they do not believe they need a vaccination or do not trust the government. (Respondents were allowed to name more than one reason.)
In New York, the survey results were similar, though fewer unvaccinated people cited concern about possible side effects (42 percent), distrust in the vaccines (27 percent) and distrust in government (19 percent). Compared with the national survey results, a higher percentage of New Yorkers said they don’t think they need to get vaccinated (34 percent.)
Though not cited in the Household Pulse Survey, lack of access—real or perceived—is another factor that many experts cite. This is a particular concern in rural and minority communities. As the Rochester Beacon reported last week, the Finger Lakes Performing Provider System is heading up an urgent effort—backed by a $1 million federal grant—to boost vaccination rates among high-need minority groups in the region and poor communities in rural areas.
One challenge facing the “You Deserve Answers” campaign: Facts alone sometimes are not enough to persuade people to change their minds. Researchers in neuroscience and social psychology have long recognized that people often find arguments in favor of beliefs they hold to be stronger than arguments for conclusions they resist. Known as motivated reasoning, it is similar to confirmation bias, another phenomenon that can reinforce false beliefs.
Survey data indicates, however, that most people who are unvaccinated could be persuaded to change their minds.
“For this effort, we really listened to the community, and we heard loud and clear that the path to vaccine confidence requires straightforward dialogue,” says Todd Butler, Causewave’s president & CEO. “When people feel like their questions are respected and answered by experts they can trust, they actually engage in this decision, rather than avoiding it.”
Paul Ericson is Rochester Beacon executive editor.