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Eradicating Covid-19: $900K campaign addresses vaccine hesitancy among Milwaukee residents

March 11, 2021

When Terova Senior Living in Mequon offered Covid-19 vaccines to its staff and residents, nearly all the residents accepted but less than half of employees took the shots.

That demonstrated the challenge of achieving herd immunity in metropolitan Milwaukee through vaccinations, said Greg Marcus, whose family’s Marcus Investments owns the facility. Marcus, who chairs the Greater Milwaukee Committee, enlisted the influential organization in a new push to convince an overwhelming majority of Milwaukee-area residents to get vaccinated and eventually eradicate Covid-19.

“There is no more important issue right now and more important initiative that we can get behind right now in our community than getting the vaccine,” said Marcus, who also is president and CEO of The Marcus Corp in Milwaukee.

A multi-pronged campaign will be introduced in the next two to three weeks to reach vaccine-averse members of the Milwaukee community with the message that the shots are safe and necessary. The total budget is about $900,000 for the campaign that’s slated to run until July via everything from small-group sessions to television advertising.

The GMC formed the Business Leadership Vaccine Advisory Group to provide expertise and resources to businesses that want their employees to get vaccinated. The GMC also supports another group that for three months has been planning a community-wide information campaign.

The group called the Vaccine Integrated Communications Outreach and Community Mobilization includes representatives from the Medical College of Wisconsin, health care systems, federally qualified health centers, the city of Milwaukee, Milwaukee County and the private sector. Medical College executive Mara Lord chairs the group.

The main target for the campaign is an estimated 40% of the population that either questions and mistrusts the vaccines or is taking a wait-and-see approach, Lord said. Many of those residents live in Milwaukee’s central city, north side and south side and work in essential industries including senior living, she said.

“At the core, we are developing a community mobilization strategy,” Lord said.

Lord’s group has retained consulting firms that are training individuals who can serve as trusted voices and meet with small groups to encourage vaccinations, she said. The consulting firms are owned by Black women: Jump At the Sun Consultants LLC of Mequon and Inpower Solutions LLC of Milwaukee.

“If we can reach those groups, we will be making really good headway,” Lord said.

Contributing their expertise in-kind in are three Milwaukee women-led advertising and communications agencies: Hanson Dodge, 2-Story and Kane Communications Group.

All but about $150,000 of the $900,000 in expenses has been raised via pending grants, in-kind contributions and a consortium of the Greater Milwaukee Foundation, Bader Philanthropies, the Zilber Family Foundation and the United Way, Lord said.

Besides the small-group outreach, the campaign will spread its message via social media, billboards, radio and some television, Lord said.

The GMC is focused on tools and recommendations for employers and the first webinar is scheduled for March 17.

The availability of Covid-19 vaccines will continue to grow and Lord’s group, as well as the GMC, want to drive demand in Milwaukee to ensure there are enough recipients to receive the shots.

Speed is of the essence if the Milwaukee area is to continue reducing the incidence of Covid-19 and fully reopen the economy, Marcus said. After the initial rush of motivated residents get vaccinated in the coming weeks, the group targeted by the new campaign will need to agree to participate, he said.

The messaging for the campaign hasn’t been finalized, but Marcus and Lord suggested a personal appeal will be crucial to changing the minds of people who are reluctant to get the shots.

“We just need to get them motivated,” he said. “Do you want to hug your loved ones again? Do you want to go to a Brewers game again? Do you want all those things? How do we get you back there faster?”