Podcast: How can health officials appeal to millions of COVID-19 vaccine skeptics?


Due to the spread of misinformation online, health officials are facing a daunting challenge getting Americans to take the Covid-19 vaccine. But this isn't the first time that the government has tried to convince a skeptical public to take its medicine.

In 1965, there was a very high-profile polio vaccination when Elvis, the King of Rock & Roll, received his shot on the Ed Sullivan show. Dr. Regina Luttrell—a public relations expert at Syracuse University—told KCBS Radio that Elvis made the appearance because there were reports of young people not buying into taking the polio vaccine.

“He went on television, got immunized and then we saw this jump in younger people becoming immunized,” she said on Monday’s “Ask An Expert” segment.

Dr. Luttrell added that the vaccine rhetoric was also woven into the beloved 1964 Disney movie Mary Poppins.

“The song ‘Spoonful of Sugar’ was written by the Sherman Brothers and that was all about taking the polio vaccine,” she said of the 'little sugar cubes' that were given out in schools.

Now, a coalition of tech companies, scientists and even celebrities are coming together to combat bogus information. But Dr. Luttrell said that the challenge is greater today because of the proliferation of misinformation on the Internet, and accurate data is often described as "fake news."

The "cure" for this, she said, is for tech companies like Twitter, Facebook and Google to continue to flag or ban anti-vax ads and websites, but she added that they need to do a better job before it spreads further.

“They’ve moved to call out channels and videos that share anti-vax rhetoric,” Dr. Luttrell said.

She added that the modern problem, however, is the speed with which that information is shared.

“Breitbart, for example, they already have such a stronghold with its base on a social sphere that when they share information, that information is shared almost immediately to tens of millions of people,” Dr. Luttrell said.