HHS paid media to advertise COVID vax as outlets gave positive coverage

Despite the marketing blitz, Fox News found that voters who believed the vaccine was safe and effective fell 7 percentage points from September to November.

Updated: March 8, 2022 - 10:23pm

The Department of Health and Human Services paid for advertising of COVID-19 vaccines on hundreds of media outlets, even as the outlets often provided positive coverage of the vaccines.

Despite the marketing campaign, polls have shown Americans had mixed views on the vaccines as the year progressed.

Responding to a Freedom of Information Act request filed by The Blaze, HHS revealed that it had purchased advertising from major media outlets such as ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox News, CNN, MSNBC, the New York Post, the Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post, BuzzFeed News, and Newsmax, in addition to hundreds of local TV stations and newspapers. The outlets provided mostly positive coverage of the COVID vaccines' efficacy and safety.

In spring of last year, Congress appropriated $1 billion for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director "to strengthen vaccine confidence in the United States … provide further information and education with respect to vaccines … and to improve rates of vaccination throughout the United States."

The Biden administration paid for advertisements on hundreds of news platforms, according to The Blaze, as part of its "COVID-19 Public Education Campaign," a "comprehensive media campaign" to "educate people about the importance of vaccination and basic prevention measures to prevent COVID-19 and protect public health."

Some media outlets aired HHS commercials with celebrities promoting the vaccine, and others sympathetically covered "fear-based vaccine ads" from COVID patients who survived after being hospitalized in intensive care units. 

News outlets said they have firewall policies in place under which the advertising department and newsroom are independent of each other, The Blaze reported.

"Advertisers pay for space to share their messages, as was the case here, and those ads are clearly labeled as such," Washington Post Vice President of Communications Shani George told The Blaze in a statement. "The newsroom is completely independent from the advertising department."

According to public opinion polls, the American public's views on the vaccine have been mixed.

In a September poll, Fox News found that 65% of registered voters believed the vaccine was safe and effective, while 29% said it wasn't. However, by November, voters that said the vaccine was safe and effective dropped to 58%, and 30% believed it wasn't.

According to a March 2021 Rasmussen Reports poll, 67% of likely voters were confident in the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine. By August, that number increased to 70%, while 26% said they weren't confident, which was about the same as the March poll.

But by December, 54% of likely voters were concerned about the potential of harmful side effects from the vaccine, compared to 44% who were not, Rasmussen Reports found.

By late September, more than 500,000 adverse events were reported in the federal Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS) after receiving COVID vaccines.

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