The seven videos present the experiences of a variety of rural Americans – from small town family pharmacists to farmers in Kansas and Georgia to a lifelong Texas cowboy – as they talk about their decision to get educated about the vaccine and ultimately get themselves vaccinated.
In late August, a Daily Yonder report found that the rural Covid infection rate was 25% higher than the metropolitan rate. Additionally, the rate of rural Covid-related deaths was more than two times higher than the rate in metropolitan areas. Still, there are large groups of people within rural populations who remain undecided about vaccines. Nearly three-fourths of them (73.7%) had concerns about the long-term side effects, while more than 6 out of every 10 (69.6%) had doubts about the efficacy of the vaccine because of new breakthrough cases, Ad Council research showed. Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows that 35% of rural Americans are vaccinated, 10% less than residents in urban and suburban areas.
To combat that, the Ad Council and the Covid Collaborative, a national assembly of experts, leaders, institutions and associations coming together to turn the tide of the pandemic, have partnered with trusted rural voices to speak directly to rural Americans.
Hannah Lipps, Rural Audiences Consultant for the Ad Council’s Covid-19 Vaccine Education Initiative, said their research showed rural residents wanted to hear personal stories from other rural residents.
“We just threw the kitchen sink into this research project with the idea of making sure that we understood exactly what was going to resonate with local communities,” she said. “Our audience is really wanting to see somebody who looks like them and sounds like them, and feels like it is somebody that they can trust. And our research has confirmed several times over that the most resonating messages at this point are personal stories.”
The group then worked with individuals from all over rural America to find compelling stories. Each of those stories was video-taped as part of the PSA campaign. The final videos were chosen to show the diversity of rural America, she said.
“I think it’s really easy for people to look at rural communities and say, ‘well, it’s a monolith. Everybody is a white conservative, between the age of thirty-six and 63’ and that’s just not true,” she said. “We wanted to make sure that the stories were representative. We wanted to make sure that we had all sorts of different backgrounds and experiences.”
Working with the American Farm Bureau Federation, the National Association of Farm Broadcasting, the National Association of Community Health Centers, the Cooperative Extension System and others, the group will distribute the PSA across the country, with a specific focus on rural areas in the South and Midwest.
Lipps said the goal was to reach rural residents where they live.
“It’s wonderful if the big outlets pick this up and pay attention, but none of this work matters if the people who need to see it don’t see it,” she said. “Our focus with this particular piece of creative work is really making sure that we get into the communities where people are going to hear these stories.”
That means doing a lot of radio ads, focusing on local television stations and getting information into local rural newspapers.
For Mary Jane Buerkle, who with her husband, pharmacist Nathan Buerkle, own the Drug Store in Haskell, Texas – a town with a population of 3,322 – it was important to them to reach members of their community to help people get accurate information so they would get the vaccine and get back to “normal” small town life.
“When we heard there was a vaccine, we definitely were hopeful, and we were relieved because we saw it as an opportunity to suppress the virus , end this pandemic and save lives,” she said. “We also wanted to get life back to normal – whatever normal is for people. You know, the effect of the pandemic had been devastating, not only to so many personally, but also to the business community.”
Buerkle’s video talks about their efforts to get the vaccine into their community, and to fight the disinformation being spread with calm one-on-one talks with their customers.
Other videos talk about personal experiences with Covid. Brooks Hodges, a Guthrie, Texas cowboy, talked about losing his wife, Amanda. On New Year’s Eve, the couple celebrated in Fort Worth. On Sunday, January 3, Amanda woke up having difficulty breathing. By Monday morning, they were rushing her to the hospital. Amanda, his wife of 30 years and his best friend since fourth grade, tested positive for Covid and was placed in the Covid ICU. Ten days later, she was on a ventilator. At 28 days, doctors put her in an induced coma as Amanda’s brain swelled.
“She just never woke up,” Hodges said. “The decision was made on day 34. I was able to go up there sit with her. She loved Van Morrison, so I put a set of head phones on her… God promises us eternal life. But we’re not guaranteed tomorrow.”
Hodges said he got the vaccine to make sure he was there to take care of his two children he had with Amanda.
Lipps said the stories, the real personal events and decisions these rural residents speak to, are essential in helping others understand the importance of getting the vaccine.
“I will tell you that nothing about any one of these stories was scripted in any way,” she said. “We wanted these to be deeply, authentic stories, and I think that has shown through in the messages that they deliver. Because they all they are so different and they do come from, you know, very different perspectives.”
The public service announcements are scheduled to begin airing on October 25.