What DTC marketers can learn from people who refuse vaccines

SUMMARY: Vaccine mandates are only going to get us so far when it comes to COVID immunity. The reasons for people refusing vaccines are both safety and side effect concerns, although politics plays a big part as well. DTC marketers should take note of these concerns, especially around the launch of new drugs.

The news around Aduhelm is not good. The drug, which FDA advisors refused to approve, has more side effects than initially anticipated, and of course, the media is running with the story, which, in turn, leads to a lack of trust in the FDA.

The two biggest reasons people refuse a COVID vaccination are side effects and lack of trust in the approval/study process. Since Pew reports that almost 60% of people get their news from social media, the wacky conspiracy theories also stay alive.

On YouTube, the accounts of six out of 12 anti-vaccine activists identified by the Center for Countering Digital Hate as being responsible for creating more than half the anti-vaccine content shared on social media are easily searchable and still posting videos. On Facebook, researchers at the left-leaning advocacy group Avaaz ran an experiment in June to show how anti-vaccine material gets pushed to people. Two new accounts it set up were recommended 109 pages containing anti-vaccine information in just two days.

President Biden was right to mandate vaccines for some populations, but he needs to go further by banning unvaccinated people from using air and train travel. That still won’t be enough, though. He needs to rely more on science and not talk about subjects like vaccine boosters until the FDA studies the issue.

If you’re a DTC marketer and launching a new drug, you need to amend your marketing plans to address side effects and the approval process.

Approval Process – People want to know how long the drug has been in development and how many people were involved in clinical trials. You need to communicate this information on your website and in DTC TV commercials with possible stage lines like “studied in over X number of patients”. Your goal is not to “sell” people but to inform and educate them. It might also be a good idea to remind your audience to trust credible health sites like WebMD vs. social media.

Side Effects – When it comes to side effects, people believe what others say, even if it’s wrong. Listing side effects from the product label is not enough. You should try and put it in perspective by saying HOW MANY people experienced a specific side effect. It might be a good idea to also talk about how the FDA studies side effects and how they are reported.

The worst thing any DTC marketer can do right now is ignore product side effects while people spread misinformation on social media. It’s going to play a more significant part in treatment decisions.