As COVID-19 vaccines begin making their way from science labs to doctors’ offices, three former U.S. presidents—Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama—have said they’re willing to get their shots on camera in order to encourage skeptical Americans to do the same. The move is “a good first step,” says psychology professor Lisa Feldman Barrett, but a broader, sustained public service campaign may be needed to get a critical mass of the United States’ diverse population on board with being vaccinated.
“Leaders are missing the scope of what’s required here,” says Barrett, university distinguished professor of psychology at Northeastern. “The fact that three presidents who are on different sides of the political divide are standing together in a photograph, proclaiming dedication to being vaccinated together, is inspiring. But if we really want a program of vaccinations to work, we have to target all sectors of the population with a coordinated influencer campaign.”
Different messages, Barrett says, delivered by different people of power or prestige, will resonate with different segments of the population. While she found the presidents’ message heartwarming, those who are politically disaffected might have been unmoved, Barrett says.
A campaign that enlists influencers from a variety of media—YouTube stars, movie and music stars, politicians, physicians, and the like—is more likely to impact more people, she says.