Turns out, the HHS conceived of, funded, and executed many similar media campaigns through its COVID-19 Community Corps program, which was designed to promote vaccination using “trusted messengers” from different demographics and communities, according to its website.
Judicial Watch obtained 249 pages of HHS documents on the program in early October through a Freedom of Information Act request. The documents show extensive agency plans for targeted advertising campaigns, including ideas like placing “a trusted messenger on the Joe Rogan Show” and asking Tom Brady to make a pro-vaccination video with his parents.
One document titled “Share the Mic Program Plan” listed five targeted demographics: white conservatives, African Americans, Latinos, young people, and the general market. Different celebrities and influencers were listed to reach each group.
To reach white conservatives, the document suggests featuring NASCAR drivers, sports figures, country music singers, and faith leaders, identifying Franklin Graham, Joyce Meyer, and Joel Osteen.
The same document suggests targeting African Americans through influencers like Rickey Thompson, Tabitha Brown, Jackie Aina, and the Shade Room celebrity gossip Instagram page. For Latinos, it suggests Pero Like, Bad Bunny, Lele Pons, and the Being Latino instagram meme page.
The HHS even had plans to get parents on board. A slideshow titled “Building Parent Confidence in Covid-19 Vaccines” details campaign strategies such as distributing “talking points for preachers and church leadership,” partnering the National Education Association (NEA), and building “school-based incentives for adolescents” like offering extra credit in science class for getting the COVID-19 vaccine.
The slideshow also considered placing vaccination prompts near photo memories on Amazon Prime Photo, iPhoto, and Facebook and partnering with mom influencers.
Another document titled “We Can Do This Engagement Ideas” outlines ideas for corporations and media companies.
For corporations, the document suggested offering discounts to vaccinated customers, placing vaccine messaging on paid advertisements and apparel, and sponsoring competitions or giveaways promoting the vaccine. For media companies, it proposed donating ad space and air time to vaccine content and encouraging talent to produce vaccination specials.
Many ideas contained in HHS documents became reality
According to the HHS website, official Community Corps program partners include the MLB, NASCAR, PGA Tour, American Farm Bureau Federation, National 4-H Council, NEA, Hispanic Federation, NAACP, Asian Community Development Council, Alaska Federation of Natives, American Legion, National Association of Evangelicals, National Council of Jewish of Women, GLAAD, and AARP, along with dozens of other organizations.
The HHS website also publicly details a number of campaigns it was behind through its COVID-19 Public Education Campaign.
For Latino audiences, the HHS paid for ad spots on Telemundo’s Latin American Music Awards in April 2022; partnerships with “local community-based print publications that Latino people trust and rely on for their local news,” and radio personalities, and minority-owned media companies; and targeted digital ads.
For black audiences, paid HHS outreach “has run in 150+ media markets between 8/01/2021 and 07/31/2022 in 125+ local and national print publications, and across 1,800+ radio stations within programming consumed most by the Black audience.” Additionally, black physicians and HHS spokespeople were placed on iHeart radio programs like The Steve Harvey Show, The Breakfast Club, and iHeart Communities.
Rural Americans were targeted through collaborations with Outdoor America, country music singer Shane Owens, the Healthy Trucking podcast, and paid ads on “networks that over-indexed with rural audiences, such as The Weather Channel, Fox Sports, and Small Town Big Deal.”
Other notable HHS actions include partnering with BuzzFeed creators to target young adults and 27 parenting influencers to target parents.
The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 allocated a total of $1 billion to the HHS Secretary for the specific purposes of strengthening vaccine confidence, furthering education, and improving vaccination rates.
The COVID-19 Community Corps program was one of many sponsored by the federal government to quiet questions surrounding vaccines.
For example, a CDC grant for “Improving Clinical and Public Health Outcomes through National Partnerships to Prevent and Control Emerging and Re-Emerging Infectious Disease Threats” (grant CK20-2003) funded a variety of vaccine public education campaigns.
One $1.5 million American Hospital Association (AHA) effort extended through September 2023 will focus on building confidence in “pediatric vaccination.” A previous $3 million grant to the organization went towards media ads, videos, podcasts, a rural healthcare toolkit, and case studies.
A CDC award to the American College Health Association’s Campus COVID-19 Vaccination and Mitigation (CoVAC) Initiative also funded $3000 “mini-grants” for dozens of universities that launched peer-to-peer marketing initiatives, resulting in colleges paying students to become vaccine ambassadors.