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 as broadcasters work 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.
On March 31, iHeartMedia launched the “COVID-19 Immunity in Our Community” podcast series, produced in partnership with the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to share timely and accurate information about the vaccines. Designed to separate fact from fiction, “COVID-19 Immunity in Our Community” will arm listeners with the tools they need to make educated decisions about getting vaccinated. The show is hosted by ABC News’ Robin Roberts and features experts such as Dr. Anthony Fauci and other respected voices from the medical and scientific communities. The 12-episode series will also draw perspectives from Americans across different communities, who will share their unique and personal experiences with vaccination. This series is in addition to iHeartMedia covering COVID-related educational topics across all of its 850 local radio stations with an array of health experts, government leaders and nonprofit organizations.
Fox-owned KCPQ Tacoma, Wash., is putting experts on the air to provide factual information to their viewers about the vaccines and the next steps once more people are vaccinated. On April 2, anchor Liz Dueweke interviewed Dr. John Dunn of Kaiser Permanente Washington Research Institute about the new trials for an investigational vaccine by Moderna to combat the South African COVID variant. KCPQ also interviewed Dr. Scott Lindquist, Washington State Department of Health’s epidemiologist for communicable diseases, on March 24 about travel restrictions as vaccinations continue.
Hearst Television’s ABC affiliate KOAT-TV Albuquerque, N.M., aired on April 8 a 30-minute special, “COVID-19 Impact: Your Questions Answered,” dedicated to answering viewer questions about the vaccine distribution and different vaccine options. Anchor Royale Da spoke with Dr. Tracie Collins, New Mexico Department of Health secretary, and Dr. David Scrase, New Mexico Human Services secretary, and presented viewer questions on topics such as second doses, when children under 15 will be able to get vaccinated and vaccine site locations.
Nexstar Media Group’s CBS/MyNetworkTV affiliate KELO-TV Sioux Falls, S.D., aired a report on January 22 about a vaccination clinic held on Martin Luther King Jr. Day by the Rosebud Indian Health Service (IHS) to get members of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe vaccinated. The goal was to get 500 people vaccinated with their first dose, and at the end of the day 572 individuals were vaccinated. Rodney Bordeaux, president of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, said, “The cooperation between the tribe and IHS has been great.” He emphasized the tribe’s efforts to educate people about the vaccine through social media, television and radio. Based on the positive feedback, IHS will hold mass vaccination clinics every Thursday moving forward, in addition to scheduled appointments available Monday through Wednesday.
NBCUniversal launched on February 11 the “Plan Your Vaccine” initiative, a nationwide awareness campaign, website and interactive tool that provides the latest news and information about the COVID-19 vaccine. PlanYourVaccine.com allows users to navigate the vaccine rollout by state, help determine if they are currently eligible to receive the vaccine and find the closest vaccination location. NBC News and Noticias Telemundo are the main partners of “Plan Your Vaccine” and the site is available in English, Spanish and Mandarin. In addition, Comcast NBCUniversal rolled out an advertising and PSA campaign across all its platforms using company talent and resources to support the effort.
Middle Tennessee State University’s WMOT Murfreesboro, Tenn., reported on the concerns from immunocompromised people regarding the vaccine and whether it’s safe to take it due to their health conditions. Senior Science and Health Editor/Correspondent Maria Godoy spoke with several doctors about the safety of the vaccine for people with weakened immune systems, such as patients with rheumatoid arthritis or lupus, organ transplant recipients and cancer patients receiving chemotherapy. The report also stressed the importance of these patients getting vaccinated and discussing when would be the best time to get the vaccine with their doctor. Dr. Sharon Dowell, a rheumatologist at Howard University Hospital, said the bottom line for immunocompromised patients is the same as for everyone else, and “really, truly, everyone should get vaccinated.”
On March 25, Univision's “Despierta América” (“Wake Up America”) posted a social media video featuring their in-house doctor, Dr. Juan J. Rivera, to explain the messenger RNA COVID-19 vaccine to viewers and combat misinformation. In the video, Dr. Rivera explained that the vaccine contains fragments of the virus' genetic material, known as messenger RNA, does not actually contain the virus itself and dispelled the myth that the vaccine will modify a person’s DNA.
Additionally, Mariela Romero, regional community empowerment director with Univision Atlanta, Philadelphia and Raleigh, joined the We Are Broadcasters' Voices from the Field initiative to provide her thoughts on the many ways Univision stations are helping educate Spanish speaking audiences about the COVID-19 vaccine and encouraging communities to get vaccinated.
Longtime anchor Tom Wills from Graham Media Group’s WJXT Jacksonville, Fla., received the first dose of his vaccine on January 22 and then went on Facebook to urge others to do the same. “I know the appointments are hard to get. But it’s worth the effort,” Wills said. “We go back a long ways together and we want to stay together. So go get this shot.” Later that night on the 6 p.m. newscast, Wills said the process “could not have been easier” and said he experienced no pain and no side effects. He encouraged viewers to get the vaccine to protect not only themselves but their loved ones. “The feeling of having some protection against this virus is indescribable,” Wills said.
On February 15, TEGNA’s NBC affiliate WXIA-TV Atlanta, Ga., aired the segment “Drawing Conclusions,” following a local mother on a fact-finding journey to learn more about the COVID-19 vaccines. WXIA turned the questioning over to Joy Howard, a mom of two girls and medical caregiver for her live-in elderly mother who was skeptical about getting vaccinated. She interviewed four medical experts and asked her own questions regarding the safety of the vaccines, how that safety was determined, the impact on children and the overwhelming amount of vaccine disinformation online. At the end of her journey, Howard decided she would take the vaccine and invited WXIA along when she and her mother received their first doses of the vaccine.
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.”
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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