Interest in vaccinations increased after CDC announced new mask guidelines

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Data obtained exclusively by CNN shows that interest in getting vaccinated against Covid-19 increased just after Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, announced two weeks ago that vaccinated people could remove their masks.

“It shows that incentives matter,” said Dr. Jonathan Reiner, professor of medicine and surgery at the George Washington University School of Medicine. “People needed a carrot, and the carrot was the ability to let go of the mask in most contexts.”

The data comes from vaccines.gov, where people search for vaccination sites by zip code.

On the afternoon of May 13, right after Walensky’s announcement, the number of visits to the site began to increase, reaching its second highest number of visitors since the website launched on April 30.

“It’s amazing – really amazing,” said John Brownstein, co-founder of VaccineFinder, which powers vaccines.gov.

Hours after Walensky’s announcement, Dr.Anthony Fauci, chief medical adviser to President Joe Biden, told CNN that “the CDC’s decision was not an incentive to get people vaccinated, but it could actually have the indirect effect of getting people vaccinated. of being prompted to get vaccinated. “

In the days that followed, Walensky’s announcement became controversial, with some saying it might not encourage people to get vaccinated and could actually increase the spread of Covid-19, as people who have not been vaccinated could be dishonest and remove their mask.

So far, CDC data shows that the number of Covid-19 cases in the United States has declined steadily since May 13.

May 13 traffic on vaccines.gov

On vaccines.gov, May 13 started like any other day, as visits increased throughout the morning and then started to decline around noon.

But then things took an unusual turn.

At 2:17 p.m. ET, Walensky made his surprising announcement.

“Anyone who is fully vaccinated can participate in indoor and outdoor activities, large or small, without wearing a mask or physically distancing,” she said.

Within minutes, at a time of day when site visits typically decline, the opposite happened.

“Right after 2pm you really started to see them come up,” Brownstein said.

The number of visits continued to climb, peaking shortly after 4 p.m., just after Biden mentioned the new rules.

“Today is a big day for America in our long battle against the coronavirus,” Biden said at 3:58 p.m. during a White House briefing. “I think it’s a big step. A great day.”

At 4:12 a.m., he tweeted: “The rule is now simple: get yourself vaccinated or wear a mask until you do. The choice is yours.”

Shortly after Biden’s speech and tweet, vaccines.gov saw its second-highest peak on record – just over 40,000 visitors – since the site launched on April 30. The highest peak took place on May 4, with slightly more visitors, following an advertising campaign to launch the site.

“I didn’t think we would see such a well-defined spike in interest,” Brownstein said.

May 13 turned out to be the busiest day yet for the website. This interest was maintained for about a week, with 1,972,434 visitors throughout the week, compared to 1,604,686 visits the week before the mask orientation was announced.

After the decline, vaccination numbers stabilized

Based on the timing of the May 13 peak on vaccines.gov, it’s quite clear that Walensky’s announcement, along with the presidential speech and tweet that followed, was responsible for the increase, has Brownstein said.

“A spike in usage on vaccines.gov at this time tells us that the easing of some restrictions influenced the decision of some people to be vaccinated,” Brownstein said.

Actual vaccinations – not just website visits – also increased on May 13 after nearly a month of decline, but the role of changing mask orientation is less clear.

That’s because the day before Walensky’s announcement, the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices recommended the use of Pfizer’s Covid-19 vaccine in adolescents ages 12 to 15, opening the vaccine. to 17 million more Americans.

Adding this younger group has clearly increased the number of people getting vaccinated, but an analysis of the data suggests that vaccination rates have improved for older groups as well.

Vaccinations for Americans 16 and older alone have seen a steep drop since early April, reaching a 7-day average of about 546,000 first doses reported on May 18, the lowest point in months.

Then they rose again, averaging over 599,000 first doses reported on May 22.

The carrot and the stick

Even though some Americans have become cynical about statements from government officials and scientists, the May 13 mask change resonated with at least a subset of the population, Brownstein said.

This is an important lesson learned, given that public health officials have yet to convince around half of the country to get vaccinated.

“There was a specific segment of the population that this new mask orientation was significant for, as we’re trying to figure out what strategies work, that’s one of them,” Brownstein said. “For others, maybe lottery tickets or other incentives could work. But this one worked for at least some people.”

Reiner agreed, noting that for some, the carrot works better than the stick.

“I tried to talk to young people, to get them to focus on the fact that around 500 Americans still die from Covid every day,” Reiner said. “But no 18-year-old thinks he’s going to die of anything, so it didn’t really resonate with them. But showing them they don’t have to wear a mask – that was the point. key.”

He said he hopes public health leaders will remember the carrot approach.

“I think the CDC should have this discussion frequently. In the past it was just a disaster, but what this data shows is that when you give the audience positive reinforcement, it can really pay off. “





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