What DTC marketers can learn from people who refuse a COVID vaccination


  • Even though the Delta variant of COVID is highly contagious, people are still choosing not to get vaccinated.
  • Concerns about safety, fear of unknown side effects, and misinformation about COVID-19 are some reasons why people may not accept the vaccine.
  • Social media has a lot of health misinformation bet they alone can’t be blamed.
  • The media stories about the FDA. CDC and new drugs have fostered an era of mistrust with some people.
  • DTC marketers need to be more forthcoming when it comes to drug trials and side effects.

The headline on CNN.com seems to be a severe warning “People unvaccinated against Covid-19 risk the most serious virus of their lives, expert says”. Yet, especially in Southern states, too many people are still choosing not to get vaccinated. They are not only a danger to themselves but a danger to healthcare workers and unvaccinated people.

According to Kelly Elterman, MD, “concerns about safety, fear of unknown side effects, and misinformation about COVID-19 are some reasons why people may not accept the vaccine”. People who refuse the vaccine are putting herd immunity in jeopardy, and the U.S. now lags behind other countries in the number of people getting the vaccine.

While President Biden has blamed Facebook for a lot of misinformation, they are only part of the problem. Facebook could have easily used some of their billions of dollars of profits to help weed out inaccurate medical information. Health misinformation on Facebook was viewed 3.8 billion times in the past year, peaking during the Covid-19 crisis, a report suggests. But why would people believe what’s written on Facebook?

Over the past three weeks, I set up a social media monitor to learn what people were asking and commenting on regarding the COVID vaccine. Besides the blatant misinformation, most issues revolve around long-term safety as people feel the vaccine was developed too quickly. Sure, some won’t get vaccinated because they listen to idiot politicians, but that is a whole other issue.

It’s also no coincidence that COVID positive and hospitalization rates are higher in Southern states, which tend to lag in healthcare benefits. These states are among the worst when it comes to obesity and smoking as well.

So how should DTC marketers view this?

The media noise around the FDA, CDC, Aduhelm as well as vaccines is affecting patients. Last week, for example, the news that J&J’s vaccine could cause Guillain-Barré syndrome is scaring more people even though there have only been 100 reports of Guillain-Barré syndrome out of the 12.8 million people who have been vaccinated with the one-dose Johnson & Johnson (J&J) vaccine.

This means that trust will be a huge issue for new drugs that promise breakthrough results. Patients want to know the side effects of new drugs, and they’re spending more time online researching them, believing more and more what others say versus credible medical sites.

The other HUGE issue is media headlines that scare rather than report the facts. Scare headlines lead to clicks but people tend to skim the news rather than research headlines in depth.

DTC marketers will have to work harder to earn the trust of online health seekers, and they should also monitor the news to determine threats to their brands. We need to talk more about clinical trials to understand terms and reassure a public that is skeptical of new drugs.

The fact that there is so much noise around Aduhelm is also a cause for concern. More and more and health systems are saying no to Aduhelm, but some people believe it’s the first step to treat Alzheimer’s.

DTC marketers would be wise to think about how patients are viewing their advertising and websites. Those who don’t care will, of course, do nothing.