It was not a one-off when, late last month, the Biden administration enlisted the help of Olivia Rodrigo, the hugely popular 18-year-old pop star, to convince her young and very online fans to get vaccinated. According to the New York Times, the White House has recruited more than 50 social media influencers and celebrities to help combat vaccine misinformation and spread official COVID wisdom to the masses.
The problem the White House is trying to solve is very real: Only 28.4 percent of 18-to-24-year-olds have reported being vaccinated, according to a June report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The same data set shows that young people ages 18 to 39 said they weren’t vaccinated because they were concerned about side effects, wanted to wait and see if the vaccines are safe, didn’t trust the shots, or didn’t think vaccination was necessary for them.
To confront this, the White House recruited influencers to interview Dr. Anthony Fauci under the hashtag #MadeToSave. They asked him about vaccine misinformation, who should get vaccinated, and when things can return to normal. But as one misinformation researcher told the Times this week, official messages are not always as compelling as passionate grassroots ones. So I decided to take a look at both—a sampling of the official Biden-endorsed videos and the influencer-driven ones—to see which might have a better shot at reaching their intended audience.
I regret to inform you that much of the White House–recruited content is quite unsatisfying. Few of the videos adequately address the concerns of people who are hesitant or ask about systemic barriers, and several are just pretty boring. (As a TikTok connoisseur, I spend a lot of time on the platform and rarely regret that I will never recoup those hours. But these videos made me feel otherwise.) As for the videos made more organically, they weren’t always as information-dense, but they were funnier and often more creative.
Anyway! I judged them all on a completely subjective 5-point scale, taking into account how convincing they were to me, a young millennial reporter who is Very Online (but also Very Vaccinated); how much solid information they conveyed; and how creative they were. Here’s what I found.
Official White House Videos
Who she is: @taylorcassidyj, TikTok creator who uses her channel mostly for educational purposes
How many followers: 2.1 million on TikTok
Approach: In a nice touch, @taylorcassidyj crowdsourced questions, which led to her asking about things her followers care about, like if the vaccine lowers IQ and if they’ll faint during the shot. That specificity is great. She was also quite creative, mashing clips of her doing regular life stuff—lying on a blanket outside, watering plants, doing her skin care routine, and packing a bag—with the questions for Fauci, giving a creative tint to a serious topic. Also, points for using music! But overall the video wasn’t as fact-packed as some of the others.
Score: 4 out of 5
Who he is: @jacobsartorius, singer and influencer
How many followers: 24 million on TikTok
Approach: The main thing you need to know is that @jacobsartorius ends the video with a clip of himself getting vaccinated. It’s not as gimmicky as it should be for TikTok, but still, someone with such a big following showing themselves getting vaccinated can’t be bad. Unfortunately, @jacobsartorius only asked Fauci one question. But at least that one question was about long-term side effects of the vaccine—which is a reason younger people have cited for not getting vaccinated—and he gave Fauci time to offer a robust takedown.
Score: 3.75 out of 5
Who she is: @iamcattsadler, entertainment reporter
How many followers: 470,000 on Instagram
Approach: This video offers a robust interview with the doctor. But it’s nine minutes long, and I’m not sure how many folks will sit and watch the entire thing, despite the useful information in it. Still, it’s informative, and the questions—especially the one about real-world vaccine efficacy and what Fauci would explicitly say to convince people who aren’t vaccinated—are well rounded. The only downside is that she doesn’t directly dig into those reasons young people aren’t getting vaccinated.
Score: 3 out of 5
Unofficial Pro-Vaccine Videos
Who he is: @mrbeard, creator focused on satire
How many followers: 2.4 million on TikTok
Approach: This is cinema, and it’s better than all of the movies released straight-to-HBO during the pandemic. The video is part musical, part public service announcement. He addresses the fact that he’s a young person and that may be off-putting to some of the people he’s trying to convince. He notes that he understands why people would be wary of the government. He acknowledges that pharmaceutical companies are patenting the vaccines and thus profiting off them. Then he immediately pivots into the data showing that most people currently being affected by the virus are unvaccinated and makes a plea to those watching: If you’re a real patriot, you’ll get your shot. But @mrbeard makes one significant error when he mentions long-term side effects of the vaccines without being clear that they are highly unlikely and, if any were to occur, would happen within a few weeks of being vaccinated.
Score: 4 out of 5
And watch this second video before you read this.
Who he is: @anania00, one of the most prolific content creators on TikTok
How many followers: 2 million on TikTok
Approach: I really enjoyed this duo from @anania00, who has interacted with the White House in the past but wasn’t a part of the Fauci interviews. The first video is short, evokes Hot Girl Summer, speaks directly to Black folks, and employs the “In this essay, I will—” meme, appropriately formatted with a clean video cut off. The second video is a deviation from his usual content and delivers the most impassioned plea for young folks to get vaccinated that I came across. He addresses how a lot of young people think they won’t get as sick from COVID-19 and how you can still be a danger to people around you. He also emphasizes that vaccination lessens risk enough for you to see the people you love. These videos aren’t informative in the same way others have been. But, despite the lack of scientific data, sincerity makes it work.
Score: 5 out of 5
Who is she: @kristenware_, TikTok creator who produces comedy and dramatic skits
How many followers: 1.5 million on TikTok
Approach: Using a viral sound where rapper Trina cusses out one of her Love & Hip Hop: Miami co-stars, @kristenware_ puts a comedic spin on the heightened transmissibility of the delta variant. She manages to posit the variant as “the baddest bitch” against the original strain of COVID-19, Ebola, the common cold, and the flu. It’s slightly macabre—especially for anyone who isn’t accustomed to icy humor—but the joke lands flawlessly since, well, the delta variant is more transmissible than those viruses. This video does a solid job, but loses 1 point because the information is more implied than explicit.
Score: 4 out of 5
So, who did it best? It’s clear that the influencers who were able to operate outside of the constraints of the White House’s campaign were able to create more compelling content. But honestly, anyone who’s working to combat vaccine misinformation, spread awareness about the safety of the vaccines, and share accurate information about COVID-19 is doing a good deed. I’m in favor of trying it all.