NCL calls for Spotify removal of Joe Rogan episodes that contain harmful misinformation

Media contact: National Consumers League – Carol McKay, carolm@nclnet.org(412) 945-3242

Washington, DC—Today, February 5, 2022, the National Consumers League sent a letter to Spotify CEO Daniel Ek to call for the removal of episodes of Joe Rogan’s podcast, “The Joe Rogan Experience,” that contain demonstrably harmful misinformation related to masks, vaccines, and other public health measures. The text of the letter appears below.

February 5, 2022

Daniel Ek
Chief Executive Officer
Spotify USA Inc
150 Greenwich Street, 62nd Floor
New York, NY 10007

RE: COVID-19 misinformation on The Joe Rogan Experience

Dear Daniel Ek:

Since late 2020, highly effective mRNA vaccines have been accessible for free to the general public. Despite this, millions of Americans remain unvaccinated, which has been a major contributing factor to the deaths of nearly 900,000 Americans during the pandemic.[1] Spotify has a civic responsibility to do everything in its power to help prevent future COVID-19 deaths—including (but not limited to) removing episodes of Joe Rogan’s podcast, The Joe Rogan Experience, that contain demonstrably harmful misinformation related to masks, vaccines, and other public health measures.

The National Consumers League (NCL), which I lead, has worked hard to combat COVID-19 misinformation.[2] Guided for more than a century by the legacy of our first General Secretary, Florence Kelley, NCL has championed vaccines as lifesaving medical interventions. General Secretary Kelley’s support for inoculations played a key part in mitigating a critical smallpox outbreak at the end of the 19th century and her stalwart advocacy for immunizations has informed NCL’s efforts to increase access to and confidence in vaccines for more than 120 years. Recently, we demanded that the Small Business Administration (SBA) rescind Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) funds that were granted to anti-vaccine groups.[3]

On episode #1639 of his podcast, Rogan recommended that young people not get the vaccine, stating “if you’re like 21 years old, and you say to me, should I get vaccinated? I’ll go no.”[4] On episode #1737, Rogan stated, “they’re trying to say that children need it when they don’t. They don’t need it.”[5] This is but one of many instances of Rogan making statements on his podcast that are clearly misinformation. Data from the CDC shows that over 6,000 individuals under the age of 30 have died from COVID-19 to date.[6] Just last month, almost 800 children under the age of 18 were hospitalized with COVID-19 daily, with young adults’ hospitalization rates being nearly double that number.[7] Unfortunately, Rogan’s harmful rhetoric is not limited to just episodes #1639 and #1737; The Joe Rogan Experience has a long and well-documented history of spreading misinformation that clearly violated Spotify’s Platform Rules.[8]

Spotify’s Platform Rules state that “[c]ontent that promotes dangerous false or dangerous deceptive medial information that may cause offline harm or poses a direct threat to public health,” is prohibited on the platform. The Platform Rules further state that violation of these rules may result in violating content being removed by Spotify and the content publisher’s account suspended.[9] Spotify does not appear to have applied its Platform Rules regarding COVID-19 misinformation to The Joe Rogan Experience despite the fact that the platform has removed 20,000 episodes on other podcasts for containing false claims related to COVID-19.[10] We urge Spotify to enforce its COVID-19 Platform Rules consistently, regardless of who the content creator may be.

Spotify’s failure to police The Joe Rogan Experience, creates serious, and potentially deadly risks for his listeners. Research shows that misinformation has a tangible impact on individuals’ willingness to take measures to reduce the risk of COVID-19 infection and transmission. For example, being exposed to false claims reduced vaccination intent by 6.2 percentage points.[11] Another study showed that misinformation led to a decline in individuals’ reception to authentic COVID-19 health guidance.[12] Given the platform’s massive reach, Spotify is uniquely positioned to help protect its hundreds of millions of users from the harm that flows from incorrect statements, false claims, and lies promulgated on the streaming service.[13]

As Spotify’s most popular podcast, Joe Rogan’s audience includes millions of listeners who view him as a trusted source of information, even when his claims are nonfactual and unfounded.[14] Compared to the $0.0032 per stream rate that Spotify reportedly pays other content creators on the platform,[15] Spotify has clearly decided to make a major investment in The Joe Rogan Experience. I understand that Spotify is a commercial business and not a charitable organization. Still, NCL believes that when the world’s largest digital service provider invests $100 million in an endeavor, the results should better the common good—rather than contribute to the world’s most pressing public health crisis.

We urge you to take action and remove episodes of The Joe Rogan Experience which violate Spotify’s COVID-19 Platform Rules.

Sincerely,

Sally Greenberg
Executive Director
National Consumers League
email: sallyg@nclnet.org

 

cc:       Regan Smith, Head of Public Policy, Government Affairs, Spotify

[1] Note: Unvaccinated persons had 53.2 times the risk for COVID-19 associated death compared with fully vaccinated and boosted individuals. Johnson AG, Amin AB, Ali AR, et al. COVID-19 Incidence and Death Rates Among Unvaccinated and Fully Vaccinated Adults with and Without Booster Doses During Periods of Delta and Omicron Variant Emergence — 25 U.S. Jurisdictions, April 4–December 25, 2021. (2022). MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep, 71, 132–138. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.15585/mmwr.mm7104e2

[2] National Consumers League. Get the facts on the COVID-19 vaccine. (2021). https://nclnet.org/vaccines

[3] National Consumers League. No PPP for anti-vaxxers! (2021). https://nclnet.org/ppp_antivaxx/

[4] #1639 – Dave Smith. The Joe Rogan Experience. (2021). https://open.spotify.com/episode/7taqki4fGUkcXESbaUzjgh?si=4VNiaS32TKCiLILuTXiv0Q

[5] #1737- Tim Pool. The Joe Rogan Experience. (2021). https://open.spotify.com/episode/1vnRz7xfy27VFTHVeK740V?si=6541c03af7da47fd

[6] Centers of Disease Control and Prevention. Provisional Death Counts for Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19). (2022). https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/nvss/vsrr/covid_weekly/index.htm#SexAndAge

[7] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. COVID Data Tracker: New Hospital Admissions. (2022). https://covid.cdc.gov/covid-data-tracker/#new-hospital-admissions

[8] Paterson, A. Joe Rogan Wrapped: A year of COVID-19 misinformation, right-wing myths, and anti-trans rhetoric. Media Matters. (2021). https://www.mediamatters.org/joe-rogan-experience/joe-rogan-wrapped-year-COVID-19-19-misinformation-right-wing-myths-and-anti-trans

[9] Spotify. Spotify Platform Rules. (2022). https://newsroom.spotify.com/2022-01-30/spotify-platform-rules/

[10] Note: While Spotify has removed at least 40 episodes of the Joe Rogan Experience, those episodes do not appear to have been removed due to violations of the Spotify’s Platform Rules related to COVID-19. (Source: Resnikoff, Paul. “Spotify Has Removed 40 Joe Rogan Episodes To Date — Here’s the Full List.” Digital Music News. (2021). https://www.digitalmusicnews.com/2021/03/30/spotify-joe-rogan-episodes-removed/

[11] Loomba, S., de Figueiredo, A., Piatek, S.J. et al. Measuring the impact of COVID-19 vaccine misinformation on vaccination intent in the UK and USA. Nat Hum Behav 5, 337–348 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41562-021-01056-1

[12] Kim, H. K., Ahn, J., Atkinson, L., & Kahlor, L. A. (2020). Effects of COVID-19 Misinformation on Information Seeking, Avoidance, and Processing: A Multicountry Comparative Study. Science Communication, 42(5), 586–615. https://doi.org/10.1177/1075547020959670

[13] Spotify. About Spotify. (2022). https://newsroom.spotify.com/company-info/

[14] Variety. Joe Rogan Had the No. 1 Podcast in 2021 on Spotify. (2021). https://variety.com/2021/digital/news/joe-rogan-experience-most-popular-podcast-news-roundup-1235123361/

[15] Justice At Spotify. Union of Musicians and Allied Workers. (2022). https://www.unionofmusicians.org/justice-at-spotify

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About the National Consumers League

The National Consumers League, founded in 1899, is America’s pioneer consumer organization. Our mission is to protect and promote social and economic justice for consumers and workers in the United States and abroad. For more information, visit www.nclnet.org.

Testimony at CDC advisory committee on Moderna COVID-19 vaccine approval

Media contact: National Consumers League – Carol McKay, carolm@nclnet.org(412) 945-3242

Washington, DC—Today, February 4, 2022, NCL Health Policy Associate Milena Berhane provided oral testimony to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices in support of the approval of Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine and pediatric COVID-19 vaccines. Her comments appear below.

February 4, 2022

Thank you, Dr. Lee. My name is Milena Berhane, and today I am representing the National Consumers League. Since NCL’s founding in 1899 by social reformer Florence Kelley, we have advocated for the critical role immunizations play in the preservation and improvement of public health. We extend our gratitude to this Committee for the opportunity to present public comments.

An estimated 890,000 Americans have died from COVID-19 during this pandemic that has persisted in the U.S. for the past two years. The COVID-19 virus continues to threaten the health and safety of many, especially vulnerable populations such as the elderly and immunocompromised groups. The currently available COVID-19 vaccines have worked to save lives, and avoid preventable illness, hospitalizations, and deaths in our communities.

The National Consumers League commends the FDA and the CDC on the approval of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine, which will continue to be a key tool in the public health response to this pandemic. This vaccine has been, and will continue to be, a safe and effective measure to protecting Americans 18 years of age and older.

America’s families are hopeful that the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine will be granted Emergency Use Approval for children under 5 years of age. Hospitalization of children under 5 years of age has soared, further evidence of the need for expanding vaccine access to children in this age group. Vaccinating children under the age of 5 will protect them from illness, but also protect their families, caretakers, and teachers from contracting COVID-19 as well.

We are also concerned about the widespread drop-in routine childhood immunization rates during the pandemic. According to CDC data released last May, over 11.7 million children have missed doses of their recommended vaccines.  We are particularly worried that our nation’s most vulnerable children, those who qualified for the Vaccines for Children program, are getting caught up at a much slower rate than children with commercial insurance.

The National Consumers League recognizes the extreme importance of immunizations in protecting the health and safety of all Americans, and will continue its efforts to increase vaccine confidence and uptake across lifespan. We look forward to the upcoming recommendations by this committee regarding these COVID-19 vaccines.

Thank you.

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About the National Consumers League

The National Consumers League, founded in 1899, is America’s pioneer consumer organization. Our mission is to protect and promote social and economic justice for consumers and workers in the United States and abroad. For more information, visit www.nclnet.org.

NCL applauds approval of the pediatric COVID-19 vaccine

November 2, 2021

Media contact: National Consumers League – Carol McKay, carolm@nclnet.org or (412) 945-3242

Washington, DC—The National Consumers League (NCL) applauds the coordinated efforts of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to approve the Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for children ages 5 to 11. Consumers should be reassured that an unbiased advisory committee composed of medical and scientific experts have reviewed the data and have held public meetings to provide Americans with a transparent approval process.

“NCL is committed to educating consumers about vaccine safety and efficacy in order to increase vaccine confidence. Every day, parents make tough decisions to keep their children safe. We want parents to feel informed and empowered in their decision to vaccinate their children. As a parent of two boys ages 8 and 10, I’m looking forward to being able to protect my children from COVID-19 and put this pandemic behind us,” said NCL Director of Health Policy Jeanette Contreras.

Parents and guardians are encouraged to use the CDC’s V-Safe mobile app to tell the CDC about any side effects experienced after getting vaccinated. Parents will be able to add dependents to their account and get reminders if you need an additional dose. Register here: https://vsafe.cdc.gov/

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About the National Consumers League

The National Consumers League, founded in 1899, is America’s pioneer consumer organization. Our mission is to protect and promote social and economic justice for consumers and workers in the United States and abroad. For more information, visit www.nclnet.org.

NCL stands behind CDC COVID-19 booster recommendations

September 29, 2021

Media contact: National Consumers League – Carol McKay, carolm@nclnet.org, (412) 945-3242

Washington, DC—The National Consumers League (NCL) applauds the coordinated efforts of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to approve the Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine booster. As the Delta variant continues to cause more breakthrough cases among vaccinated individuals, it is clear that we need to ensure the protection of our most vulnerable populations.

On September 24, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky went beyond the recommendations of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practice (ACIP) and made the call to recommend the single-dose booster to frontline workers in addition to those groups recommended by ACIP. Walensky’s recommendations are in line with those of the FDA’s Vaccines and Related Biologic Products Advisory Committee (VRBPAC), which voted to approve the EUA of the booster shot for individuals older than 65 years of age, individuals at high risk for severe disease, and those with institutional or occupational exposure to COVID-19.

“NCL has long advocated for increased access to the vaccine for frontline, essential workers and equitable distribution of the vaccine to populations hardest hit by the pandemic,” said Jeanette Contreras, NCL Director of Health Policy. “The single-dose booster shot is a necessary measure to ensure the safety of those most at risk, and to further mitigate the spread of the COVID-19 virus.” The essential workers who received their Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines early in the pandemic are next in line for the booster shot, recommended at least six months after completion of the primary two-dose series.

“Consumers who were vaccinated with the Moderna or Janssen COVID-19 vaccine are on the edge of their seats,” said Contreras. “In some cases, consumers may want to get a Pfizer-BioNTech booster shot even if they’ve had one of the other vaccines. We want consumers to know that there is still not enough data for the FDA to approve mixing the vaccines.” The Administration has signaled that while recommendations for ‘mixing and matching’ vaccines will come later in October, they are working closely with Moderna and Johnson & Johnson to get their booster shots approved in the coming days.

Consumers who completed the primary series of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, branded as Comirnaty, now have ready access to the booster shot. Consumers must demonstrate they had their second dose of the vaccine at least 6 months ago and attest to being in the approved high-risk population groups. NCL stands behind the recommendations of the CDC and will continue to ensure that consumers have access to life-saving vaccines.

About the National Consumers League

The National Consumers League, founded in 1899, is America’s pioneer consumer organization. Our mission is to protect and promote social and economic justice for consumers and workers in the United States and abroad. For more information, visit www.nclnet.org.

National Consumers League applauds decision to ban vaccine misinformation from YouTube

September 29, 2021

Media contact: National Consumers League – Carol McKay, carolm@nclnet.org, (412) 945-3242

Washington, DC—The National Consumers League (NCL), America’s pioneering consumer and worker advocacy organization, today applauded YouTube and its parent company Alphabet for their decision to ban anti-vaccine misinformation from the platform. NCL has been a leading voice in promoting vaccine confidence and pushing online platforms to do more to counter misinformation and disinformation about COVID-19 and vaccines, which has contributed to far too many preventable deaths.

The accounts being removed are known anti-vaccine organizations. Robert F. Kennedy’s Children’s Health Defense Fund, one of the most high-profile anti-vaccine organizations in America, was responsible for more than half of the paid advertisements on Facebook in years past. Joseph Mercola, founder of Mercola.com Health Resources, authored an article falsely stating that COVID-19 vaccines released via emergency authorization may cause massive side effects. Tenpenny Integrative Medical Center, spearheaded by physician, Sherri Tenpenny, promotes alternative health in lieu of vaccines and authored the book, “Say No to Vaccines: A Resource Guide for All Ages.”

The following statement is attributable to NCL Director of Health Policy: Jeanette Contreras:

“Vaccine hesitancy driven by rampant misinformation online is costing lives every day and prolonging a pandemic that has devastated consumers financially as well as physically. YouTube’s decision to ban anti-vaccine misinformation, while overdue, is nonetheless an important step forward in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.”

About the National Consumers League

The National Consumers League, founded in 1899, is America’s pioneer consumer organization. Our mission is to protect and promote social and economic justice for consumers and workers in the United States and abroad. For more information, visit www.nclnet.org.

NCL applauds full approval of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine

August 24, 2021

Media contact: National Consumers League – Carol McKay, carolm@nclnet.org, (412) 945-3242

Washington, DC—The National Consumers League (NCL) applauds the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for granting the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine full licensure approval. The FDA’s gold standard approval is a testament to the remarkable safety and efficacy of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. Though the vaccine will now be marketed under the name Comirnaty, it will remain free to U.S. residents.

Today’s announcement is a historic victory for science, and a signal that the Moderna vaccine will also receive full licensure approval in the coming weeks. NCL has long-advocated for access to vaccines as life-saving interventions. It is our hope that this news will instill more vaccine confidence in the nation and persuade the vaccine hesitant to get vaccinated.

While the vaccine has been approved for people 16 years of age and older, it remains available under Emergency Use Authorization for children ages 12 to 15. Parents of adolescents can share a collective sigh of relief as they send their kids to school this fall. Already, 45 percent of children ages 12-15 have had at least one dose of the vaccine, but only 32 percent are fully vaccinated. Full approval may help to ease concerns that hesitant parents have about the safety of the vaccine.

The approval of the vaccine will allow more employers to implement vaccine mandates in states where the state legislature has banned these measures. Advocating for workers as well as consumers, NCL supports vaccine mandates that provide paid sick leave, financial incentives, and exemptions for verifiable religious or medical reasons.

Over 200 million Americans have received at least one-dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, but we are far from reaching herd immunity.  Only 51.5 percent of the total population is fully vaccinated. The Delta variant now accounts for over 137,000 new cases on average each week and is spreading faster than earlier strains of COVID-19. The only way to end this pandemic and prevent the emergence of further variants is to increase vaccinations. NCL remains committed to increasing vaccine confidence and uptake. We are hopeful today marks a turning point in our fight to end this pandemic.

About the National Consumers League

The National Consumers League, founded in 1899, is America’s pioneer consumer organization. Our mission is to protect and promote social and economic justice for consumers and workers in the United States and abroad. For more information, visit www.nclnet.org.

NCL supports employer COVID-19 vaccine mandates

August 18, 2021

Media contact: National Consumers League – Carol McKay, carolm@nclnet.org, (412) 945-3242

Washington, DC—As the nation’s pioneering organization advocating on behalf of consumers and workers, the National Consumers League (NCL) supports government and employer mandates requiring vaccination. NCL has long championed vaccine education and access to these lifesaving medical interventions. In recent weeks, it has become evident that employer mandates are effective at nudging reluctant people to get the COVID-19 vaccine. As the virus continues to spread and mutate around the globe, we remain concerned for the safety of essential workers, the immunocompromised, and children that are not yet eligible for the vaccine.

Fifty-seven of America’s health care organizations share our concerns, releasing a joint statement calling on all health care and long-term care employers to require their employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19, with California being the first state to implement this mandate. President Joe Biden followed with an announcement that federal workers and contractors will need to show proof of vaccination or be subject to weekly or twice-weekly COVID-19 tests. Governors led the way in California, Virginia, and New York requiring state employees to be vaccinated or adhere to similar testing protocols. Private employers can play a key role in increasing vaccinations, providing incentives to employees who get the shot.

NCL believes that all vaccine mandates should be implemented with the consideration that workers will need to receive paid leave to get the vaccine and to potentially recover from side effects resulting from vaccination. The American Rescue Plan Act makes tax credits available to employers to cover the cost of providing paid leave to employees to receive and recover from COVID-19 vaccinations. These tax credits can also be utilized to support employees as they take time off to vaccinate their children against COVID-19. Incentives like hourly bonuses and paid time off rewards are extremely important to hourly workers.

Additionally, mandates should be developed in consultation with labor unions who represent workers. The American Teachers Federation and the AFL-CIO are two labor unions that have publicly stated they are supportive of vaccine requirements for workers. The SEIU 2015, California’s largest caregiver union, released a set of principles to aid employers with implementing mandatory COVID-19 vaccines, encouraging them to make the vaccine accessible either at work or near the workplace.

Companies can legally mandate that all employees re-entering the workplace and new hires be vaccinated for COVID-19, providing exemptions pertaining to religion or disability. Politically motivated laws prohibiting mandates for vaccines only make it harder for public health officials to quell the pandemic, ultimately hurting consumers. Seven states have passed laws prohibiting mandates for vaccines under an emergency use authorization. However, since these bans hinge on FDA licensure approval of the vaccines, they will be nullified once a vaccine is granted full approval.

More than 198 million Americans have safely received the COVID-19 vaccine. Given the remarkable evidence of safety and efficacy of the COVID-19 vaccines, consumers should rest assured that vaccines are effective measures to protect public health and vital to national efforts in ending the pandemic. Through our education and outreach efforts, NCL will continue to support efforts to vaccinate the nation.

About the National Consumers League

The National Consumers League, founded in 1899, is America’s pioneer consumer organization. Our mission is to protect and promote social and economic justice for consumers and workers in the United States and abroad. For more information, visit www.nclnet.org.

April Verrett, President of Service Employees International Union Local 2015

Earlier this year, I rolled up my sleeve…

SEIU President April VerrettBy Guest Blogger April Verrett, President of SEIU 2015

…for my COVID shot. I was tired of feeling like the virus was winning. I was sick and tired of feeling at the mercy of the whims of this unrelenting, mutating disease. I was angry that this pandemic was beating the hell out of us. So despite any fears and reservations I had about a new vaccine, I was ready to fight. And I wanted to lead by example and show that the vaccine was safe, effective, and the best way to fight against COVID-19.

That shot was more than just a way to protect myself. Like so many have noted, wearing masks and getting vaccinated are comparable to the solidarity and community spirit our grandparents and great grandparents displayed during WWII, where the nation united and everyone did their part. That’s why our Union members referenced the iconic WWII “Rosie the Riveter” image when they launched their “We Can Do It!” vaccination campaign earlier this year. Our Union helped tens of thousands of our long-term care providers, their families, and their vulnerable clients access vaccinations across the state.In the style of the famous Rosie the Riveter poster, a person is pictured wearing mask, flexing arm, and showing vaccination bandage, saying We Can Do It

I was so relieved months earlier when the vaccine became available to essential workers in California. The more than 400,000 long-term care providers I represent every day—primarily women of color—were among the first in line. Often, their communities were the hardest hit by the pandemic. Black and brown neighborhoods throughout the state consistently suffered the highest illness and death rates.

COVID took deadly aim at our members and their elderly, sick and disabled clients. They lost many of the fragile people they cared for while they themselves struggled on the terrifying font lines of the war against COVID, often without the PPE to protect themselves. These caregivers suffer lingering trauma from seeing the ravages up close in nursing homes and private homes up and down the state. Like my sister Christine, a nurse assistant at a nursing home in Bakersfield, where they lost 19 of their patients and more than a hundred of her colleagues fell ill with COVID. It breaks my heart that this is not a unique example. I heard story after story like Christine’s.

There’s one thing that slowed this devastation and protected our members and the vulnerable people they care for: vaccination. Our members see firsthand that it’s the best weapon available to rein in this pandemic, protect against infection and hopefully slow the development of dangerous variants. It’s simple: where vaccination rates are higher, rates of infection, hospitalization and death are lower. Counties across the nation again experiencing at-capacity hospitals are, sadly, the counties that have resisted the vaccine.

I’ve never seen as much misinformation thrown at our members and our communities as I’ve seen around COVID vaccines. So, we recently started a follow-up ‘We Can Do It!’ effort to dispel the dangerous—life-threatening, really—myths about vaccination.

This summer, as employers and local and state governments began to look at ways to urge more vaccination, SEIU 2015 member leaders formed a working group to ensure that Union members would have a voice in any policy, including vaccine mandates. This group developed a set of principles to guide employers and partners in our state’s continued vaccine rollout, such as making sure the vaccine is readily available and accessible, that sick days are provided for the frequent resulting flu-like symptoms and that it’s carefully scheduled to avoid staffing shortages. Days after outlining this guidance, our Governor mandated all healthcare workers to get vaccinated. Our members overwhelmingly support vaccination, but they also want to ensure that it’s accomplished thoughtfully and respectfully for our members who remained concerned.

We can do it. Together, we will defeat COVID-19.

April Verrett is President of SEIU 2015, the largest union in California, representing more than 400,000 long-term care providers (home care, skilled nursing facility, and assisted living center workers) throughout the state. Its members are as diverse as the state’s population, but united in their commitment to caring for California’s most vulnerable: seniors and the disabled. In October, Verrett will receive an award from NCL named for our first Executive Secretary Florence Kelley. To learn more about the evening of awards, click here. 

Addressing vaccine hesitancy with community-driven messaging

Nissa Shaffi

By Nissa Shaffi, NCL Associate Director of Health Policy, featuring an interview with Jens Dakin, Managing Director of AM LLC

After months of vaccine review and approval informing an arduous national vaccination campaign, nearly half of the country has been fully vaccinated against COVID-19. However, despite these efforts, we’ve narrowly missed the national goal of 70 percent of Americans receiving at least one dose by July 4. Even though there is overwhelming evidence in support of the COVID-19 vaccines and their safety, vaccine hesitancy still looms.

On July 8, the NCL health team met with Jens Dakin, Managing Director of Strategic Engagement at AM LLC. AM LLC is a health and research informatics firm that provides public health related, mission critical services in information, communications, and technology to federal, state, and local government clients. Since March 2020, AM has partnered with government agencies to control, isolate, and mitigate the spread of COVID-19 through various community engagement and vaccine quality assurance measures. Below is a snapshot of our conversation.

Nissa: For over 120 years, the National Consumers League has advocated for consumer protections in health care. A big part of our work involves fostering vaccine confidence. We do this through direct consumer engagement, testifying before federal vaccine committees, like the CDC and FDA, and our Script Your Future campaign, where we engage with pharmacy students to increase vaccine uptake. We would love it if you could tell us a little about AM Trace work in vaccine confidence.

Jens DakinJens: Thank you, and nice to meet you both. AM was founded about 10 years ago to provide services to the federal government in research, communications, and healthcare IT. When COVID-19 spread to the US there was a lot of effort by the federal and state governments to keep people safe with COVID-19 threat mitigation, and then to get people to take the vaccine. AM now provides capabilities in five critical services to state and local governments, including staffing and training of public health personnel, technology support infrastructure, public awareness outreach campaigns, stakeholder collaboration. We work with key public servants to help increase capacity pertaining to COVID operations.

Spencer: When you first enter a community, how do you get your foot in the door and begin to understand the specific needs of the community so you can begin to build your campaign strategy?

JD: Ultimately, we don’t like to enter a community cold. We undertake lots of research before hitting the ground to understand the demographics and the local context. It is important for us that our local partners know the area, the people and have the access we need. Whether it’s an African American community, or a White, rural Republican-leaning county, we can make some educated guesses, but we certainly cannot make assumptions about the individuals without the local data and insight. This initial research frames how we empathize and engage with the community, allowing us to develop more credible messages that will resonate better. We don’t tend to advocate mass media campaigns, especially now when there is a need to persuade the vaccine holdouts, because the mass campaigns haven’t worked with them.

NS: On mass vaccination campaigns, I recently came into contact with an old friend that has become increasingly anti-vaccine and cited vaccine lotteries and giveaways as suspect. Do you think that these mass efforts are causing more harm than good?

JD: I believe that they have achieved what they set out to do. They have worked to an extent, to get the people who want to be vaccinated, vaccinated. Unfortunately, there is now considerable distrust in government authority in our society – much of it caused by the spread of misinformation and disinformation. Your friend views her belief as completely rational based on the information she has. For the vaccine holdouts, the message needs to come from a trusted voice and delivered in a non-intrusive way. What we are seeing working in some cases is developing a series of different “micro-interventions”, in the form face-to-face conversations, a series of emails or chats on a group message board. We can even learn lessons from deradicalization programs that have helped to sway people away from the path towards terrorism, where we listen, understand, and engage with empathy.

NS: I really like the idea of “micro-interventions”. Is there a designated period of time you allow yourself in a particular community to test these messages and strategies to see if they land before moving on from that group?

JD: We have to test and adjust all the time. This is an evolving situation. You really just need to remember that when you convince someone to get vaccinated, you’re potentially saving their life. If you keep building that relationship with the community, that can end up going a long way. This is why it’s so important that our local messengers, or canvassers, are all from the communities we are engaging within.

NS: Could you provide some examples of success stories as a result of these interventions?

JD: In NYC, AM’s teams have spoken with over 180,000 residents and as a direct result of our personalized messaging campaigns and direct engagement within [mainly minority] communities, encouraged over 50,000 people to book vaccination appointments. In Anchorage AK, AM’s teams identified, contacted, and built relationships with individuals living in both urban and rural communities with the goal of addressing vaccine hesitancy and booking vaccination appointments. During a single 6-week span of all the unvaccinated people they spoke with, they arranged for nearly 20 percent of them to get vaccinated.

NS: Who do you use in community outreach to build these relationships?

JD: We don’t tend to use professional canvassers. We prefer to recruit and train local canvassers specifically from their community. We speak with the community and individuals to find out who the local influencers are – who they trust. We meet with them and ask them to work with us because need them to become our message multipliers within that community.

NS: The COVID-19 vaccine development and approval process has been as novel as the disease itself. We’ve had the privilege of witnessing science unfold in real time, and along with that, comes a lot of trial and error, as we’ve seen with the momentary pause in the J&J vaccine and the new cases of myocarditis in pediatric populations. How do you mitigate the derailment of messaging, which have been extensively tested, by rise in these developments?

JD: Well, we know that with these holdouts, and these “wait and see” groups, science and facts won’t sway them. The issue is not necessarily about vaccine information, there is a lot of information out there. So, if you’re using science to try to convince people who are ideologically entrenched in one belief or another, they might not understand what you’re trying to say which will turn them off, or they may come up with counter arguments or “counter-facts” that support their own beliefs. They may also exist in information silos, or information echo chambers, that feed them information which confirm their biases. So no, using science will often not work with hold out groups. Which is why we need to find more innovative methods that focus on more accessible and personal benefits of vaccination.

NS: AM trace has a great vaccine confidence toolkit for community leaders which mentions the importance of decision autonomy for patients in vaccine confidence. With public sentiment headed towards vaccine mandates, to possibly issuing vaccine passports– do you see any challenges with that? How can advocates help reduce weariness around these initiatives in a way that is aligned with an individual’s constitutional rights?

JD: As communicators, we should not have any say in developing policy. Whether vaccine mandates are right or wrong, is not an issue I will discuss here. What I will say is that for those employers and institutions who are mandating it, when developing their campaign is that words matter, and the messaging and messengers matter. Employers need to understand that their ‘single’ workforce is made up of many separate communities each with their own concerns and beliefs. You need to understand the behavioral and emotional context that people exist in order to have the best chances of success. The toolkit you mentioned provides communication planners with an overview of what to consider when developing behavior change campaigns. It works very well in the COVID-19 context.

NCL Health Policy Intern Spencer Cramer contributed to this blog.

Jeanette Contreras portrait

Como detectar el COVID-19 en casa

By NCL Director of Health Policy Jeanette Contreras

Tras la efectiva campaña de vacunación, las pruebas de detección serán claves para seguir evitando contagios del coronavirus y resumir a la normalidad. Reconociendo que estamos en buen camino para controlar la pandemia del coronavirus, los estados están eliminando las restricciones de la cuarentena. Pero el 11 de mayo, el director de la Organización Mundial de la Salud (WHO, por sus siglas en inglés) nos alerta que seguimos en una situación peligrosa porque los estudios de la variante que se ha propagado en la India indican que esta se transmite más fácilmente y provoca una enfermedad más grave.

Expertos de salud siguen cuantificando y analizando los casos positivos para vigilar las variantes. Una recomendación importante es seguir administrando las pruebas de detección de COVID-19 aunque las personas sean asintomáticas. En abril, la Administración de Alimentos y Medicamentos de los Estados Unidos (FDA, por sus siglas en inglés) autorizó varias pruebas de uso personal que detectan el COVID-19 y que se pueden comprar en las tiendas y farmacias como CVS, Walgreens y Walmart sin receta médica .

Para los fines de mayo esperamos ver estas pruebas caseras disponibles en todo el país. Los Centros para el Control y la Prevención de Enfermedades (CDC, por sus siglas en inglés) ofrecen consejos sobre cómo usar un kit de recolección y realizarse la prueba en casa. Todas funcionan igual: toma el espécimen de tu nariz o de saliva, envíala al laboratorio por correo, y recibirás los resultados por el internet en un par de días.

Como todavía falta vacunar a los niños menores de 12 años, a las personas que por su religión no han sido vacunados, y personas con enfermedades graves que no se les permite vacunarse, los expertos de salud pública temen no poder eliminar el coronavirus por completo. Una de cada tres personas en el EE. UU. no confía en la vacuna. Y si la mayoría de la población no se vacuna, el COVID-19 será endémica en nuestro país. Solo el país de Israel ha logrado llegar a la inmunidad de grupo- incluso jóvenes de 16 años de edad se han vacunado.

Con acceso a estas pruebas personales, organizaciones y empleadores pueden comprar cantidades de kits de recolección para uso en sus comunidades. Las escuelas y lugares de trabajo ya están estableciendo programas de pruebas para detectar el COVID-19 rápidamente. Para proteger los más vulnerables en nuestras comunidades, todos los casos positivos se deben reportar al departamento de salud del condado en donde vives y al estado para iniciar un rastreo de contactos. Es importante saber dónde se inició el contagiado y con quien ha tenido contacto cercano las personas infectadas.

Aunque el CDC afirma que las personas con la vacuna completa que no presentan síntomas del COVID-19 no necesitan hacerse la prueba de detección después de haber estado expuestas a una persona contagiada con el COVID-19, es muy posible que personas que quieran viajar tengan que mostrar una prueba de detección negativa para entrar a otro estado o país. Mientras que no haya un pasaporte de vacunas, muchos países requirieran que los visitantes demuestren una prueba de COVID-19 negativa para ingresar a su territorio. El CDC tiene un planificador de viajes que las personas pueden utilizar para buscar información sobre el COVID-19 en las comunidades estatales, locales, territoriales y tribales que atraviesen en ruta a sus destinos.

La facilidad de obtener pruebas caseras nos ayudar a detener la propagación del COVID-19 e identificar los orígenes de contagio. Poder hacer un seguimiento de contactos en las comunidades afectadas no solo puede prevenir enfermedad, pero también controlar la evolución de nuevas variantes del COVID-19. La conveniencia de poder hacerse la prueba del coronavirus desde la comodidad de la casa y sin receta de un doctor significa tener un mejor control del bienestar de cada persona en nuestras comunidades.