COVID-19 public education campaign by HHS saved more than 50,000 lives

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Key takeaways:

  • Researchers estimated the campaign averted almost 2.6 million mild COVID-19 cases.
  • Additionally, every $1 invested in the campaign resulted in $89.54 in benefits.

The “We Can Do This” COVID-19 public education campaign by HHS resulted in an additional 55.9 million COVID-19 vaccines administered in the United States, saving tens of thousands of lives, research showed.

“We were somewhat surprised by the extent of the impact that we found,” May Malik, HHS senior advisor for public education campaigns, told Healio. “This was even as our team of researchers were extremely conservative in their estimations, taking extra care to avoid overstating the influence of the campaign and getting peer input by other scientists before publication.”

Data derived from:  Turner S, et al. Am J Prev Med. 2024;doi:10.1016/j.amepre.2024.03.018.

According to a press release, HHS launched the campaign — one of the largest public health education efforts in history — in April 2021 to promote COVID-19 vaccine confidence and uptake “using integrated, multichannel, research-based strategies.”

The campaign had aimed to reach 90% of adults in the U.S. at least once per quarter, particularly those in high-risk communities, and featured more than 7,000 ads in 14 languages.

In a benefit-cost analysis, Sidney Turner, PhD, from the business consultant company Fors Marsh, and colleagues calculated the number of campaign-attributed vaccinations and expenditures to determine averted COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths between April 5, 2021, and March 7, 2022.

They found that during the study period, about 55.9 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines would not have been administered without the campaign.

Overall, the campaign contributed to:

  • 2,576,133 fewer mild COVID-19 cases;
  • 243,979 fewer nonfatal COVID-19 hospitalizations; and
  • 51,675 lives saved from COVID-19.

“These figures are not just numbers — they represent the people whose lives and well-being matter, and the families who did not lose their loved ones to COVID-19,” Malik said. “These findings underscore why we do this important work and why we aim to share these findings with a wider audience.”

Findings from the analysis — published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine — also showed that the total campaign benefit was $740.2 billion. The campaign cost was $8.3 billion, resulting in a net benefit of nearly $732 billion.

“Every $1 invested in the campaign and vaccination costs resulted in approximately $89.54 in benefits,” the researchers wrote.

Benefits of the campaign were not surprising to Malik “because we know public health campaigns are powerful tools for changing health behaviors at scale.”

There were some limitations in the study. For example, Turner and colleagues did not adjust for some policies like vaccine mandates, which may have confounded the results.

Additionally, the benefits of the campaign may have extended beyond the study period, “such that findings underestimate total campaign benefits,” they wrote.

The researchers added that the results should be viewed as retrospective rather than predictive of what may happen under future public health campaigns.

Still, “these findings show the power of public health campaign messaging to influence behavior change, complementing other strategies that aim to increase vaccination uptake, such as efforts to increase access to vaccines,” Malik said. “Public health campaigns are an important component within a multi-pronged approach to addressing future public health threats.”


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