To Promote Vaccines, New Orleans Dances With Its Sleeves Rolled Up


Since the summer, public health officials and politicians repeatedly called for national pro-vaccination campaigns. But no meaningful federal campaign has materialized, so concerned local officials have begun to develop their own publicity.

New Orleans may be best positioned to be at the forefront. Regularly battered by hurricanes, the city has an emergency management office practiced in public messaging.

Covid-19 Vaccines ›

Answers to Your Vaccine Questions

While the exact order of vaccine recipients may vary by state, most will likely put medical workers and residents of long-term care facilities first. If you want to understand how this decision is getting made, this article will help.

Life will return to normal only when society as a whole gains enough protection against the coronavirus. Once countries authorize a vaccine, they’ll only be able to vaccinate a few percent of their citizens at most in the first couple months. The unvaccinated majority will still remain vulnerable to getting infected. A growing number of coronavirus vaccines are showing robust protection against becoming sick. But it’s also possible for people to spread the virus without even knowing they’re infected because they experience only mild symptoms or none at all. Scientists don’t yet know if the vaccines also block the transmission of the coronavirus. So for the time being, even vaccinated people will need to wear masks, avoid indoor crowds, and so on. Once enough people get vaccinated, it will become very difficult for the coronavirus to find vulnerable people to infect. Depending on how quickly we as a society achieve that goal, life might start approaching something like normal by the fall 2021.

Yes, but not forever. The two vaccines that will potentially get authorized this month clearly protect people from getting sick with Covid-19. But the clinical trials that delivered these results were not designed to determine whether vaccinated people could still spread the coronavirus without developing symptoms. That remains a possibility. We know that people who are naturally infected by the coronavirus can spread it while they’re not experiencing any cough or other symptoms. Researchers will be intensely studying this question as the vaccines roll out. In the meantime, even vaccinated people will need to think of themselves as possible spreaders.

The Pfizer and BioNTech vaccine is delivered as a shot in the arm, like other typical vaccines. The injection won’t be any different from ones you’ve gotten before. Tens of thousands of people have already received the vaccines, and none of them have reported any serious health problems. But some of them have felt short-lived discomfort, including aches and flu-like symptoms that typically last a day. It’s possible that people may need to plan to take a day off work or school after the second shot. While these experiences aren’t pleasant, they are a good sign: they are the result of your own immune system encountering the vaccine and mounting a potent response that will provide long-lasting immunity.

No. The vaccines from Moderna and Pfizer use a genetic molecule to prime the immune system. That molecule, known as mRNA, is eventually destroyed by the body. The mRNA is packaged in an oily bubble that can fuse to a cell, allowing the molecule to slip in. The cell uses the mRNA to make proteins from the coronavirus, which can stimulate the immune system. At any moment, each of our cells may contain hundreds of thousands of mRNA molecules, which they produce in order to make proteins of their own. Once those proteins are made, our cells then shred the mRNA with special enzymes. The mRNA molecules our cells make can only survive a matter of minutes. The mRNA in vaccines is engineered to withstand the cell’s enzymes a bit longer, so that the cells can make extra virus proteins and prompt a stronger immune response. But the mRNA can only last for a few days at most before they are destroyed.

Earlier in the pandemic, it devised a “Mask Up, NOLA!” slogan. As the virus raced through neighborhoods, Laura A. Mellem, the city’s public engagement manager for its NOLA Ready program, was acutely aware that it was hitting Black New Orleanians in starkly disproportionate numbers. Black people comprise some 60 percent of the city’s population but nearly 74 percent of its Covid-19 deaths.

“But the communities that are the most impacted by the virus are likely the most hesitant about the vaccine, because of the longstanding history of abuse against them in the name of science,” Ms. Mellem said.

How to persuade them to get the shot?

In November, the city put together the Vaccine Equity and Communications Working Group, a coalition of high-profile public health doctors, faith leaders, leaders from Black, Latino and Vietnamese communities, and heads of the city’s large social clubs. The group filled out surveys, identifying cultural icons that would appeal widely to residents.

Rather than focusing messaging on the miseries wrought by the pandemic, Ms. Mellem said, they decided to emphasize an aspirational and inviting tone, a core insight derived behavioral change research and urban thought leaders in cities like San Francisco. As Edward Maibach, a professor at George Mason University who studies public health messaging, writes, the most effective communications “make the behaviors we are promoting easy, fun and popular.”

“I’m getting my shot so I can visit my 92-year-old mom and we can eat in our favorite restaurants,” says Julie Nalibov of the Krewe of Red Beans, which helps the city’s stricken cultural performing artists, many of whom are over 70.



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