Throughout the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, local television and radio broadcasters have played a critical role in keeping their communities informed about the virus, hospitalization and infection rates and best practices, such as social distancing. With the vaccine rollout across the nation, this role is more important than ever to educate viewers, answer their questions and target misinformation. The National Association of Broadcasters (NAB), the Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute (RJI) and the National Association of Chain Drug Stores (NACDS) launched an online toolkit to help local journalists craft COVID-19 vaccine education messages that best resonate with their audiences. The toolkit is designed to provide journalists with information and resources to create news reports, public service announcements and other messages related to vaccine safety, effectiveness and distribution. Following are examples of local stations’ efforts to share factual information about the vaccine deployment in their communities.
Meredith Corporation’s CBS affiliate WGCL-TV Atlanta, Ga., has established a page on their website devoted to “The Vaccine Team,” a place for their viewers to learn about COVID-19 vaccine distribution, ask questions, get answers and review data related to vaccine administration and hospital bed capacity in the state.
Gray Television’s NBC/CW affiliate WIS-TV Columbia, S.C., is encouraging viewers to send in their questions regarding the COVID-19 vaccine to their website, and Digital Reporter Madeline Cuddihy answered several of these questions on air on February 15. Questions included information regarding taking painkillers, allergic reactions and scheduling the second dose of the vaccine.
ABC-owned KTRK-TV Houston, Texas, hosted a two-night townhall on the COVID-19 vaccine and infection rate focused on addressing concerns in the Hispanic and Black communities. The CDC says Black and Latinx Americans are nearly three times more likely to die from COVID-19 complications than whites. The first night was hosted by Anchor Mayra Moreno on January 27, and discussed how hesitation about vaccination, resistance to mask wearing or social distancing and fear of seeking medical attention in underserved communities can lead to higher infection rates and deaths. "We come from a culture where, typically, we don't like to ask for help," said Dr. Laura Murillo, president of the Houston Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. "I cannot begin to tell you how many conversations I have had personally trying to convince people to pay attention to the facts, the science."
The second night was hosted by Anchor Chauncy Glover and local leaders warned that infections and hospitalizations in the Black community are likely to rise unless hesitation about the vaccine is addressed soon. "The legacy of mistrust goes back many, many years, and it's not just in medicine but in other areas," said Dr. Jacquelyn Johnson Minter, health and human services director of Fort Bend County. "But I think the really important thing to consider is that we don't want that legacy to then create a new legacy of more illness." Minter also addressed how the name “Operation Warp Speed” can lead to questions about the efficacy and safety of the vaccine and discussed how the vaccine had been researched and in development since 2002. "We did not want to be in the position of pushing out a vaccine that we didn't have confidence in, and I can tell you, we all have confidence in this one," Minter said. "All of us have rolled up our sleeves. We did our homework, and by about July, we were ready, we felt like things were good, and we felt like not only could we take it, but we could promote it."
Missouri Valley Broadcasting’s KMMO Marshall, Mo., highlighted on its website an initiative designed to assist older Missourians with accessing the COVID-19 vaccine. The collaboration between the Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS) and Missouri’s Area Agencies on Aging (AAAs) launched on February 16 and will assist seniors with online vaccination registrations, coordinate round trip transportation to and from their vaccination appointment and conduct reminder calls for seniors’ second doses. “Navigating the web and registering online can be a challenge for seniors, so we’re working closely with the AAAs to provide hands-on assistance with the process and make sure that folks have safe transportation to their appointments,” said Jessica Bax, director of the Division of Senior and Disability Services. “This partnership with the AAAs will ensure all Missouri seniors are able to access their vaccine.”
TEGNA’s NBC affiliate WTLV and ABC affiliate WJXX Jacksonville, Fla., known as “First Coast News,” formed a Vaccine Team to help answer viewer questions regarding vaccination, consisting of reporters and producers who take calls, emails and texts from viewers and share that information on all their platforms. “The mission of the First Coast News Vaccine Team is to uncover new information on production, distribution and availability of the vaccine and then give our community easy access to that information. We are committed to be an advocate by taking questions to medical experts,” said Joe Inderhees, the stations’ news director. A dedicated email address and hotline have been set up for viewers to contact the First Coast News Vaccine Team with questions.
Hearst Television’s NBC affiliate WLWT Cincinnati, Ohio, highlighted on February 17 the effort to vaccinate all teachers in the state so students can return to the classrooms. In Warren County, staff signed up online and picked a time slot to get vaccinated. More than 82% of teachers in Lebanon City Schools signed up to receive the vaccine, and around 140 shots of Pfizer vaccine were administered each hour in collaboration with Premier Health. "I'm excited to go ahead and get it and be a little safer around my students and for all those around me," said Caroline Kindell, a kindergarten teacher. There is also a waitlist for employees who failed to sign up by the deadline but will be eligible to receive one once more vaccines are available.
Entercom Communications Corporation’s KCBS Radio San Francisco, Calif., discussed the issue of vaccine efficacy during its “Ask an Expert” segment on February 16. Dr. Cody Meissner, professor of pediatrics at Tufts Medical Center and member of the FDA advisory panel on vaccines, answered submitted questions from listeners and discussed the different reported efficacy rate of the Johnson & Johnson one-dose vaccine compared to the two-dose Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. Currently under the FDA approval process, Johnson & Johnson reported its one-dose vaccine is 66% protective against moderate to severe cases of COVID-19, compared to Pfizer’s 95% and Moderna’s 94% reported efficacy. "We’re seeing differences reported in the efficacy of different vaccines. But I think the very important point to remember is what we care most about is preventing severe illness, severe complications that result in intensive care admission or death, and I think all of the vaccines that are available are remarkably effective, they’re close to 100 percent in reducing death,” said Dr. Meissner. “All of these vaccines that have been evaluated so far show equal efficacy in preventing very severe disease.”
Your local broadcasters are committed to providing a lifeline during emergencies, offering support and resources to their communities and shining a light on the issues that impact our lives, even as stations struggle from a steep decline in advertising revenue. Read more stories about broadcasters’ public service here.
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