Be Like Israel: A Comparison in Vaccine Communications Efforts

This week marks a little over a year from when the COVID lockdowns began, and while 500,000 Americans have tragically lost their lives in this pandemic, good news appears to finally have arrived. The data both here and around the world are are clear – cases, deaths, and hospitalizations are down, and all three major vaccines are essentially miracles of modern science. It becomes clearer by the day that the vaccines protect not only against infection but essentially stop transmission as well. In other words – once you are vaccinated you have almost no chance of getting sick, no chance of dying, and very little chance of spreading the virus to others. Terrific news, right? Then why is the Biden White House’s messaging on the effects of the vaccines so negative?

The Biden White House is strangely reluctant to tell the public the unambiguous good news about the vaccines’ effects. They refuse to say you can stop wearing a mask once you are vaccinated, offer no scientific basis for that stance, and cannot come up with a single compelling reason for anyone who is skeptical of getting vaccinated to do so. The low-hanging fruit of people who need and/or want to get vaccinated is quickly being used up. The White House should be doing everything in its power to persuade those who are on the fence about getting vaccinated to get off the fence and do the right thing.

Israel, on the other hand, has done a remarkable job of quickly vaccinating its population through simple rules for qualification, massive investment in purchasing supply, and robust, public health messaging from its government. They go so far as to issue a “green pass” that allows anyone who has been vaccinated to live their life with no restrictions. Their public health minister’s message is that those who refuse this vaccine “will be left behind.” The Israeli government has a clear plan and is backing it up with consistent public messaging tied to their end goal.

President Biden said Thursday night in a nationally televised address that the entire country’s adult population will be eligible to receive the vaccine by May 1st but that even by July 4th you still should not attend a large gathering. Why? Our main public health challenge is getting people who have are not inclined to get the vaccine to change their minds. But the message coming from the White House is not like the Israeli’s “back to life” approach. It’s “get the shot but we won’t tell you when you can get back to life.”

A message that lacks any clear connection to the end goal is a bad approach for any governmental, political, or corporate communication plan. The Biden White House deserves credit for the improvements in the vaccination rate. To avoid damaging its own progress, their communications effort to persuade skeptical Americans to get vaccinated needs a complete overhaul.