Coronavirus

Jackson Health's "Influencer Vaccine Day" Stirs Debate

Jackson Health says the effort to enlist social-media influencers is part of the hospital's vaccine outreach strategy.
Jackson Health says the effort to enlist social-media influencers is part of the hospital's vaccine outreach strategy.
Yesterday, a public-relations company for Miami's Jackson Health System sent an email to influencers and other locals with large social-media followings, announcing an "Influencer Vaccine Day" at the hospital.

"You would be invited to come (possibly with a +1) and get the Pfizer vaccine," the email read. "We hope you will post about your experience and we will also have a videographer there and may do a short interview with you for Jackson's social media."

The email said the outreach effort is still in the works but that Influencer Vaccine Day is being planned for this week or next. All Florida residents 16 and older became eligible for the vaccine on Monday.
Cari Garcia, the mind behind the Fatgirl Hedonist food blog, was one influencer who received the email. Her first thought: "Are you fucking kidding me?"

Garcia works in the healthcare industry in Broward County and has been attempting to secure vaccines for high-risk family members and friends for several weeks. She says accepting a vaccine appointment because of how many followers she has would present a "huge ethical conflict" for her.


"I feel like there are people that need it more," she tells New Times. "And I would much rather see high-risk individuals get the vaccine before seeing a young, healthy influencer get it on the merit of a social-media following and not because of any other reason."

Olee Fowler, editor of Eater Miami, also received the email. She says she's not opposed to the idea of social-media influencers being enlisted to spread public-health messages about COVID-19 and the vaccine. She just thought Jackson's timing was a little off.

"I think that was one eyebrow-raiser for me," Fowler says. "Appointments just opened up to the general population this Monday. Appointments are still hard to come by, and this can look like they're giving influencers top of the line. I wish maybe they would have waited a couple of weeks to do something like this, but I'm not in charge of their marketing."

After Garcia tweeted out a screenshot of the email, the reaction on Twitter was mixed. Some people found the idea distasteful and odd.

"This is gross," one person wrote.

"The road to hell is paved with good intentions...," said another.
Others thought the plan was a savvy way to push out public-health messaging. Some said supporting vaccination is a noble use of social media.

"Better than peddling Monat," one person responded, referring to the multilevel-marketing company that sells shampoo.
In a statement to New Times, Jackson Health said the effort to enlist social-media influencers is an added layer of the hospital's vaccine outreach strategy now that all adults are eligible.

"Our ultimate goal is to vaccinate as many people in our community as quickly as possible so we can put this pandemic behind us," the statement said. (Jackson's full statement can be found at the bottom of this post.)

Jackson isn't alone in enlisting influencers to post about the COVID vaccine. The OKC-County Health Department in Oklahoma, for instance, has been paying for social-media posts from influencers who can spread the word about the vaccine to residents.

Cornell University communications professor Jeff Niederdeppe told The Atlantic that "more is better" when it comes to getting influencers involved in public-health campaigns. And Rohit Deshpande, an economist and marketing professor at the Harvard Business School, has written about how influencers can help spread accurate and timely public-health messages. Deshpande also says influencers who activate people's "fear of missing out" can encourage vaccine laggards to get the shot. 

Still, Garcia, of the Fatgirl Hedonist blog, says Influencer Vaccine Day feels to her like jumping the line, especially when Jackson requires other residents to make an appointment in an online system that fills up quickly.

While on the phone with New Times, Garcia checked the websites for Jackson Health, Publix, Walgreens, and other businesses that provide the shot. All slots for Miami-Dade and Broward were booked. The only available appointments were in cities nearly four hours north of Miami. She wonders if it's fair for influencers and their plus-ones to get vaccines while regular folks continue hitting refresh on online appointment pages.

"When you're trying to advocate for your own family or for friends that you know are high-risk and you can't help them, then see this is being offered, it's kinda disheartening to see," Garcia says. (Despite the difficulty of booking online, there are several vaccination sites across South Florida that do not require an appointment.)

Fowler, the Eater Miami editor, says she understands both sides of the argument. While she thinks what Jackson did is odd so early in the game, she understands from a marketing perspective why the hospital would want to use that form of outreach. She notes that President Joe Biden's own "We Can Do This" vaccine push brings celebrities into the fold, and she believes there can be a place for influencers to responsibly and accurately share public-health information.

"It's a matter of getting the word out there," she says. "Whatever we can do as a whole, as a country, as a community, as a city, to get as many people vaccinated as quickly as possible, I think is a good thing. There is obviously a fine line there in terms of what can be exchanged with influencers in order to get them to spread the word. I can see there would be an ethical line that can be crossed very quickly."

To that end, Fowler says she doesn't consider herself an influencer and has never received money for a social media post. She's already been vaccinated at Jackson but would have declined the influencer offer had she not been.

"I would have personally said no," she says. "I don't do influencer-type stuff because of my media background in reporting and wanting to stay as neutral as possible."

Jackson has not specified how many doses of the vaccine it is offering to influencers, but the hospital says there will be no compensation paid to those who agree to participate.

"There will absolutely be no payment made to any influencer — or any community leader we are partnering with on our vaccine outreach efforts — in exchange for helping us educate the public about the safety, effectiveness, and benefits of this vaccine," the hospital tells New Times.

Statement from Jackson Health:
For more than three months, Jackson Health System has been a leading provider of vaccinations in Miami-Dade County, with nearly 150,000 people vaccinated in our facilities since the beginning of January. From day 1, we have focused on educating the community on the benefits of this vaccine through a variety of different outreach efforts, including producing a series of videos in three languages featuring our medical experts and hosting virtual town halls for community leaders and the public. We have also been the model for reaching traditionally underserved communities by partnering with houses of worship and non-profit community groups to vaccinate their members.

Now that all adults in Florida are eligible for vaccination, we are launching another layer of our comprehensive outreach plan: partnering with social media influencers to help spread the message about the vaccine's effectiveness to the younger generation. Our ultimate goal is to vaccinate as many people in our community as quickly as possible so we can put this pandemic behind us.

Each influencer will be allowed to bring one spouse, partner, or relative who meets Florida's eligibility requirement. There will absolutely be no payment made to any influencer — or any community leader we are partnering with on our vaccine outreach efforts — in exchange for helping us educate the public about the safety, effectiveness, and benefits of this vaccine.