Watch the AMA's daily COVID-19 update, with insights from AMA leaders and experts about the pandemic.

In today’s COVID-19 Update, Heidi Arthur, chief campaign development officer at the Ad Council, and Rodrigo Sierra, chief communications officer at the AMA, discuss the “It’s Up To You” nationwide communications effort to overcome COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy and how physicians can use it in their practice. 

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Learn more at the AMA COVID-19 resource center.


  • Heidi Arthur, chief campaign development officer, Ad Council
  • Rodrigo Sierra, chief communications officer, AMA

AMA COVID-19 Daily Video Update

AMA’s video collection features experts and physician leaders discussing the latest on the pandemic.

Unger: Hello. This is the American Medical Association's COVID-19 Update. Today, we're discussing the launch of "It's Up To You," a nationwide communications effort to overcome vaccine hesitancy. I'm joined today by Rodrigo Sierra, the AMA's chief communications officer in Chicago and Heidi Arthur, chief campaign development officer for the Ad Council in New York. I'm Todd Unger, AMA's chief experience officer in Chicago. Well, let's start with you, Heidi. You did a lot of research going into this project on the subject of vaccine hesitancy. I'm eager to learn what insights came out of this research.

Arthur: Yeah, we started this project off with, as you said, extensive research, talking to experts doing our own qualitative and quantitative studies. Basically, what we saw was, there was a significant size of the population that was in this wait and see mindset, and we're calling them the movable middle. They were not ready to say "I'm going to get vaccinated when it becomes available to me." But importantly, we saw a big opportunity because we learned that there were issues surrounding trust. People were not confident. They didn't feel like they had the information they needed to make that decision for themselves, and there were a host of reasons why they just weren't feeling confident that this was the right thing to do.

Unger: That movable middle is different than, I'm not getting it, I'm not going to get the vaccine. So, I'm sure you had a lot of different segments. Is that what you're seeing in the research?

Arthur: Correct. Yes. So, there were people who were just resistant and we just, we're not going to be able to persuade them with messaging and it's not a significant amount of the population. So, there's a big opportunity here to reach people who again, are just waiting and seeing. Many people are saying, "I'm going to wait maybe four months before I decide to do this," for a number of different reasons. It was important for us to understand differences across cultures, but by and large, what we saw, there were big concerns around trust. Is this safe? There were concerns around the efficacy of the vaccine, that it happened too quickly. How do I know that it's going to be okay for me? It was important for us to really understand this in order to develop messages that were really going to resonate.

Unger: That's interesting. I'd like to hear more about the messaging, because a lot of what you see, when people are responding to the issue of vaccine hesitancy, is they bury them in the science. How do you convince somebody who's on the fence like you said, right there? Wait and see person. What is it that's going to give them the motivation to go ahead and get vaccinated?

Arthur: Yeah, that's a great question. It was important for us to really understand the do's and don'ts around messaging. So, we tested several different frameworks and really felt that we had to normalize the hesitancy. Questions are normal and it's okay. This is something new and we had to honor that, and have empathy for it. But beyond that, we also had to provide some emotional reason why I should really, take this step to educate myself. So, really, helping people understand that this is going to help them get back to the people, the human connections, the moments, that we're all craving so much. But we learned that this has to be about public education and information.

The research showed that many people just felt like I don't have enough information, particularly when you look at communities of color, there were big gaps in terms of people feeling that they were, I felt good. I have enough information. I can make the decision when I'm eligible, but a large number of the population just had so many questions and being able to honor it, have empathy for it, and provide, credible resources to really answer those questions, were essential.

Arthur: Exactly.

Unger: I like that. It's was really meeting people where they are and making sure they've got what they need to get across ...

Arthur: Exactly.

Unger: That emotional finish line. Rodrigo, the AMA has been a leader in coronavirus or COVID-19 response, especially in the work that we do with physicians, who then are facing the public. Talk about AMA's involvement in this very massive campaign.

Sierra: Thanks, Todd. Yeah, and I agree with Heidi and pick up on something that she said. It's normal for people to have questions about things like this. I mean, we're all still learning about COVID-19. It seems that almost every day, certainly by the weeks and the months, something new arises that teaches us yet another bit more about COVID-19, and how we can combat it. So, it's normal for people to have questions and the AMA's strategies from the very beginning, as you well know, has been fairly simple. Provide resources and information to physicians that they need in order to best serve the patients that they see every day. I think this campaign is directly in line with that, and in terms of the vaccinations and educating people about it, because it doesn't tell people, take the vaccine because I say you should take it, take it because you see some celebrity take it.

No, it says, you have questions. It's normal to have questions. Come to the site and have all your questions answered, so that you can then feel confident in taking the vaccine, because as Heidi said, if we're ever going to get back to life, to hugging our grandparents, to blowing out candles on birthday cakes, to celebrating holidays together, like we used to do, then we need people to get the vaccine when it's their turn. Our AMA president likes to say, "When it comes time, your turn to get the vaccine, the only question that should be right arm or left," and hopefully this campaign will give them the information, so that's all the that they have to answer when it's their turn to get the vaccine.

Unger: That's a great way to think about it. I know I have my top five or 10 or maybe 100 things that I want to do as soon as I'm vaccinated and ready to go. Heidi, this message, it's up to you and the thought behind it is motivating. Can you talk about the tactics they're going to use to make sure that people hear it?

Arthur: Yeah. I mean, we're very fortunate at the Ad Council. We have partners of course, like the AMA, and we really are the place where our industry goes to, to give back on the issues that they care so deeply about. We're wired for this. Crisis is in our DNA and when we saw that this was coming on the horizon, we were very fortunate to have a very passionate industry raising their hands left and right. What can I do? How can we help get the message out? So, for us, the goal from day one was to have a unified message. Thinking about a patchwork confusing approach was very scary to many people. So, we all understood the power of collaboration. So, the It's Up to You platform was really designed as a platform. It's meant to be open source with as many partners as possible executing off of this same song sheet.

So, it includes everything from pre-produced PSAs that you would see on television, on digital and social. We have an extensive radio campaign, in partnership with iHeart outdoor ads, but importantly, we also have a significant ground game. So, this isn't just about an ad campaign. It's about providing really good messages, research-based tools and resources for communities to use. So. We're partnering with organizations, particularly in the Hispanic and African American community to make sure that we're reaching people where they are, and really have the most trusted voices out there, again, communicating the messages that we know are going to work.

So, It's Up to You, is meant to be flexible, it's multicultural. It will be available in both English and Spanish. We also have, as Rodrigo said, a website,, that is available in seven languages. We collaborated very closely with the CDC, so the content is basically the Q&A that you would find on the CDC site, but it's served up in a more focused, very user-friendly way for people to have access to the questions and the answers that they're looking for.

Unger: How big ballpark is this campaign?

Arthur: It's the biggest initiative that in our history, and it's really meant to match the biggest public health crisis of our lifetime. So, the scale and scope is, is quite significant. We have estimated that the campaign itself will translate to roughly, a half a billion dollars, in recent donated resources, time and talent, when you think about the many partners that we have on board. So, in addition to the content that we have created by our network of multicultural agencies, we also have media companies who have agreed to not only support the work on their channels, but also to create custom content that's really designed for their audience, to really make the most of their platforms. So, for example, we have Google. We have Facebook and Instagram on board. We have Pandora and Spotify and many partners, NBCU, Fox, Disney, Viacom, creating content, so that we can sure that again, this consistent message gets customized adapted as culturally relevant and seen and heard by everybody who needs to hear it in this country.

Unger: Wow. That's impressive. I'm so glad to hear that. Rodrigo, any additional information about how the AMA is going to work to push that message out?

Sierra: Sure. Two important things. I think Todd, Heidi mentioned one of them, which is the ability through this campaign and all of the resources that have been developed to reach out to local entities who are directly serving patients. As you know, here in Chicago, we partner for instance, with Westside United, an organization that is on the ground on the west side of Chicago, mostly dealing with Black or Latino patients. We have pulled them in. We've shared the resources with them so that they can reach out to their communities to get the message across. The second one of course, is us reaching physicians. Physicians, we know, are very important messengers and research after research, they've been found to be the most trusted source for patients, whenever a patient has concerns about their health.

Sierra: That's going to be true about COVID-19, of course. So, the AMA helping to provide these tools to physicians, I think will be a big help. One of the things we realized early on in this pandemic is that people started to question science, and the AMA drew a line in the sand on that, if you will, and said, no, we've got to rely on science. We've got to rely on evidence, because that's the only way we're going to be able to beat back this pandemic. I think, again, this campaign helps lead people to science-based, evidence-based information about this vaccine, so then when it comes their turn to get it, they are ready to take that vaccine and help protect themselves, their loved ones in their families.

Unger: Well, that's great. We actually have a PSA to share with viewers today. Let's take a look.

As the COVID-19 vaccines become available, you might be asking yourself, should I get it, and if I do, will I be able to go about life without putting my family at risk? You've got questions and that's normal. The fact is, the vaccines are safe and effective. They're going to save lives. To get the latest on the COVID-19 vaccines, visit, because getting back to the moments we miss, starts with getting informed. It's up to you.

Unger: Wow. That was very impressive. Heidi, can you talk about how physicians are going to use this campaign and the materials you put together in their practices?

Arthur: Yeah, I mean, first of all, we feel so fortunate to have the most trusted voice for people in this country out there behind this message. It's really the biggest opportunity, I think, for physicians to really have this conversation with their patients, as well as with their friends and families. Our advice is keep talking and don't stop talking, because hearing it from a health care provider means everything. I think it's applying the same principles that we apply to our messaging to the conversations that you're going to be having with your patients. It's about, of course, first and foremost, empathy and understanding, really normalizing the idea that you're curious and have questions.

Of course, any consumer, anybody, making a decision like this has to ask themselves, what do I need to know? And, being reassured that that's normal, and actually having conversations about the safety, about the efficacy, about the side effects, about concerns that are related to your own specific health concerns or issues that someone in your family might be facing. So, reminding people that there are answers, talking about the questions, sending them to Then, reminding everybody that this is all about getting back to what we love and what we miss so much. People, we found in our research, don't expect this to be the flip of the switch. So, it's reinforcing the need to still be vigilant around the protective behaviors, around masking, social distancing and personal hygiene, until everybody gets vaccinated, but acknowledging that all of this together is what's going to get us through, the other side of the pandemic?

Unger: Rodrigo, for physicians who want more information about the campaign, where should they go?

Sierra: Well, as Heidi said, physicians, of course, can go to as well as patients, but physicians can also visit two great resources sites, which are from the AMA and our partners at JAMA, who each created just really abundant resources on vaccines for physicians themselves, but also information they can share with their patients.

Unger: Well, thank you both for all your efforts and just incredibly important initiative. It really is addressing the biggest public health crisis that we've seen, and I'm glad that you are bringing every resource to bear against it. Again, for more information, Thanks for joining us today for this COVID-19 Update. We'll be back with another segment shortly. Take care.

Disclaimer: The viewpoints expressed in this video are those of the participants and/or do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the AMA.

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