After a year and a half of living amid the trauma and chaos of a pandemic, some countries are finally seeing fewer lockdowns, a drop in COVID-19 cases and deaths, and the loosening of mask requirements and other restrictions. It’s clear at this point that vaccines are the way out of the pandemic, despite delta and other variants threatening any progress, so leaders around the world—or at least those with access to a steady vaccine supply—are getting creative to get more jabs into people’s arms. We broke down some of them here.
Despite the U.S.’s overwhelming surplus of COVID-19 vaccines, only 49.8 percent of the population is fully vaccinated, due in large part to vaccine hostility among supporters of former President Donald Trump. Nearly allCOVID deaths are among the unvaccinated, prompting the CDC director to warn of a “pandemic of the unvaccinated.” To counter this, the Biden administration pushed for door-to-door conversations with the vaccine-hesitant and announced an investment of $121 million via the American Rescue Plan to community organizations in order to increase vaccination rates in underserved areas.
The White House has also resorted to some more colorful methods to reach the unvaccinated, including inviting Gen Z pop star Olivia Rodrigo to chat with Biden and Dr. Anthony Fauci about the need for vaccination. The result was a series of educational videos from the trio, like this one.
Many states have also introduced lotteries for residents who get vaccinated, with prizes ranging from million-dollar jackpots to college scholarships. New York City just announced that it would be giving $100 to anyone who goes to get vaccinated at a city-run site. And Indiana has been giving out free Girl Scout cookies at select vaccination sites. Other vaccine efforts have been more closely targeted at the unvaccinated among the GOP (namely, white conservatives). This includes an updated version of “I’ll Be Seeing You,” performed by country artist Willie Nelson and backed by 13 major sports leagues and other organizations, including NASCAR and the NFL as part of a “Back in the Game” PSA campaign. And a country music-centered PSA featuring stars like Darius Rucker and Ashley McBryde that premiered during the Country Music Awards.
Like many countries outside of the U.S., Mexico has been affected by a lack of vaccines. Only about 19 percent of its almost 128 million people have been vaccinated, and only those 40 and up can currently get a jab. Mexico also struggles with vaccine hesitancy, particularly among Indigenous communities and remote areas due, in part, to misinformation in WhatsApp chats and a historic distrust for the state’s medical systems. Furthermore, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who himself had COVID-19 in February, has also contributed to the spread of misinformation. He has been criticized heavily for his lax positions on the virus: He refused to implement a nationwide mask mandate in the name of “individual rights” and was rarely seen wearing a mask himself.
Still, the government has resorted to some very unconventional ways of getting its eligible citizens excited about vaccines. First, the government staged a simulation of COVID-19 vaccination (they were really influenza vaccines), ostensibly to confirm logistics for vaccination, but also to raise awareness. Once people started getting vaccinated, state and military-run vaccine sites were known for greeting their older patients with dancing and music. While this is all meant to promote and encourage vaccination, some believe it has been for López Obrador’s political gain rather than out of a concern for the pandemic.
After a large wave of COVID-19 ravaged the country last summer and again in December, when President Emmanuel Macron instituted a new curfew on major cities, France has been steadily growing its vaccination rate. As of now, almost 70 million doses have been given out, with nearly half of the country fully inoculated. Still, France didn’t escape vaccine hostility—vaccination centers were vandalized, and thousands protested recent moves by Macron to make vaccination compulsory for all health workers and to require that every person provide a vaccine “health pass,” negative test, or proof of COVID recovery in order to access restaurants, movie theaters, and other venues. That billwas passed this week by the French parliament.
And while that may be the strongest move by the French government to encourage vaccination, the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health has used other tactics as well, like this video. In it, shots of people getting their COVID vaccine are interlaced with encouraging signs that the world is reopening. Crowded sports arenas, opened restaurants and clothing stores, in-person offices, and a series of neon “Open” signs all take center stage amid smiling faces as Pharrell’s “Freedom” plays in the background.
From the beginning of the pandemic, when most other countries were struggling with skyrocketing case and mortality rates, New Zealand was praised by experts for its highly effective safety measures. Closed borders, strong lockdown measures, a national quarantine requirement for travelers, and a robust testing and contact tracing system meant that everyday life was “almost entirely back to normal” by July 2020. The vaccine rollout, on the other hand, has been a bit shakier. The country will only receive the bulk of its vaccines in October, according to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, which is also when everyone under the age of 35 will be eligible for vaccination. New Zealand just started vaccinatingGroup 4—which is the general population under 65, not including border workers, frontline health workers and high-risk people in areas with high case rates, or high-risk people and those over 65—last week, and at this time, only 14.2 percent of the country’s 5 million people are fully vaccinated. As of now, however, not everyone in the previous three groups has been fully vaccinated.
While more recent research has shown that vaccine hesitancy in New Zealand is linked to age and education status, rather than race or ethnicity, earlier reports that claimed hesitancy was higher among Māori and Pacific communities has swayed the Labour government’s attempts to encourage vaccination with PSAs, like this one by the government’s “Unite against COVID-19” program. Titled “Ka Kite, COVID”—Māori for “see you, COVID”—the video largely centers Māori and Pacific folks, featuring different communities as they return to crowded celebrations and family gatherings.
Nearly half of Italy is fully vaccinated against COVID-19, a feat for a rollout marred by health concerns and slow delivery amid several outbreaks. Like his French counterpart, Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi recently implemented a mandatory “green certificate” system that requires people to provide proof of vaccination, a negative test, or proof of COVID recovery in order to enter indoor spaces like bars, cafes, and museums. Also like in France, the major move to encourage COVID-19 vaccinations was met by some large protests—and also a significant boost in vaccine bookings.
Celebrities such as actor, comedian, and singer-songwriter Checco Zalone have tried their hand at encouraging vaccinations through PSAs. “La Vacinada” (“The Vaccinated Woman”) stars Zalone alongside actress Helen Mirren, a woman living in the countryside who catches Zalone’s eye when he notices she’s vaccinated. What follows is a campy montage of the Zalone’s whirlwind romance spent “face to face with this beautiful immunized woman.”
Japan accelerated its vaccine distribution in the weeks before the Summer Olympics to reach 1 million vaccines per day, after months of slow progress driven by a shortage of doctors and nurses, confusion over eligibility, the need to import vaccines, and a decentralized rollout system. At this point, just over a quarter of the country’s 126 million people are fully vaccinated, which some experts have pointed out is not enough to support the scale of the Olympics.Given Japan’s long history of vaccine hesitancy, the country has come up with some innovative ways to increase people’s trust in the vaccines. One group of 10 young Japanese physicians, for example, recently created a cute cartoon Shiba Inu chatbot that folks can use to find answers to their most pressing vaccine questions. Other private actors have turned to video PSAs as a way to increase vaccination rates. The soccer team Vissel Kobe—whose stadium was recently offered up by billionaire Hiroshi Miktani as a mass-vaccination site—recently drafted star player Andrés Iniesta for a PSA encouraging vaccinations as a way to get back to a “more comfortable and secure lifestyle.”