The federal government paid hundreds of media companies to advertise COVID-19 vaccines while they covered the pandemic

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In response to a FOIA request filed by TheBlaze, HHS revealed that it purchased advertising from major news networks including ABC, CBS and NBC, as well as cable news channels Fox News, CNN and MSNBC. , legacy media publications including the New York Post, Los Angeles Times, and Washington Post, digital media companies like BuzzFeed News and Newsmax, and hundreds of local newspapers and television stations. These outlets were collectively responsible for posting countless articles and video segments regarding the vaccine that were almost uniformly positive about the vaccine in terms of efficacy and safety.

Hundreds of news organizations have been paid by the federal government to advertise vaccines as part of a “comprehensive media campaign”, according to documents TheBlaze obtained from the Department of Health and Human Services. . The Biden administration has purchased television, radio, print and social media ads to build confidence in vaccines, synchronizing this effort with the growing availability of vaccines. The government has also relied on earned media featuring “influencers” from “communities hard hit by COVID-19” and “experts” like White House chief medical adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci, and other academics to be interviewed and promote vaccination in the news.

Although virtually all of these newsrooms have produced articles on COVID-19 vaccines, taxpayer money given to their companies has not been disclosed to the public in the stories, as standard practice is for editorial teams to operate. independent of media advertising departments and that press teams do not feel the need. to make the disclosure, as explained by some publications solicited for comment.

The Biden administration has embarked on a massive campaign to educate the public and promote vaccination as the best way to prevent serious illness or death from COVID-19.

Congress has appropriated $1 billion in fiscal year 2021 for the Secretary of Health to spend on activities to “build confidence in vaccines in the United States.” Federal law authorizes HHS to act through the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other agencies to award contracts to public and private entities to “carry out a national, evidence-based campaign to increase awareness and knowledge of the safety and effectiveness of vaccines for disease prevention and control, combat misinformation about vaccines, and disseminate scientific and evidence-based information about vaccines, with the aim of increasing vaccination rates at all ages…to reduce and eliminate vaccine-preventable diseases”.

Anyone who has spent time reading the news, watching TV news or browsing social media in the past year has more than likely been exposed to government advertising. HHS ads posted on YouTube have been viewed millions of times, and ads featuring celebrities like singer Sir Elton John and actor Sir Michael Caine have received media coverage, like this feature from NBC News:


Elton John and Michael Caine appear in comic Covid vaccine ad | NBC News NOW

Youtube

HHS’ ‘fear-based vaccine ads’ featuring ‘survivor’ stories of coronavirus patients hospitalized in intensive care units were covered by CNN and discussed on ABC’s ‘The View’ when unveiled last October.

Although the federal government paid each of these companies and others for pro-vaccine advertising while news stories covered the same vaccines, many editorial boards say they have firewall policies that prevent advertisers from influencing news coverage.

“Advertisers pay for space to share their messages, as was the case here, and these ads are clearly labeled as such,” Shani George, vice president of communications for the Washington Post, said in a statement. “The newsroom is completely independent from the advertising department,” she said.

A spokeswoman for the Los Angeles Times made a similar statement, noting that “the newsroom operates independently of advertising.”

TheBlaze contacted several other publications who declined to comment or did not respond before publication.

HHS’ COVID-19 public education campaign has also used earned media outreach – word-of-mouth marketing – in an effort to have “trusted messengers and influencers” speak to news outlets to “provide factual and timely information and steps people can take to protect themselves, their families and their communities.”

As a result of this effort, various government officials have often been quoted by reporters covering the COVID-19 pandemic, offering factual information about vaccine efficacy and safety. An October BuzzFeed News article featuring the “key facts” about who is eligible for a COVID-19 booster shot, for example, reported pro-vaccine statements from CDC director Rochelle Walensky, the FDA official Peter Marks, HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra and George Rutherford University, California epidemiologist in San Francisco.

The article highlighted how studies show “booster shots work” and cited FDA data that suggests a booster shot “can restore strong protection against the virus.” BuzzFeed News has advised anyone aged 65 or older, people with health conditions that put them at high risk of serious illness from COVID-19, people like healthcare workers who are at risk of contacting COVID-19 positive people for work, and anyone in areas with high virus transmission for vaccine boosters, per CDC guidelines.

Other publications, such as the Los Angeles Times, featured expert advice on how readers could persuade vaccine-hesitant people to change their minds. The Washington Post covered “the pro-vaccine messages people want to hear.” Newsmax reported how the vaccines have “proven to be safe and effective” and “encouraged citizens, especially those at risk, to get vaccinated.”

HHS did not immediately respond when asked if the agency used taxpayer dollars to pay people to interview, or to have a public relations firm place them in interviews with news outlets.

Since COVID-19 vaccines made by Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson received emergency approval for use in the United States last year, more than 215 million Americans have been fully immunized against COVID-19. An estimated 94.6 million people also received at least one booster dose. About 65% of the US population is now fully vaccinated against COVID-19, including 75% of US adults and 88.8% of seniors.

HHS has not yet disclosed how much advertising money was spent on each media platform.

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