Creative Case Study for The Leapfrog Group

Healthcare Worker Vaccination

The Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America (SHEA) develops and implements infection prevention and control measures in hospitals, health systems, and long-term care facilities across the United States. Having previously played a key role in combating major virulent outbreaks including Ebola and H1N1, SHEA believed the most powerful way to get HCWs vaccinated would be to make it a condition of employment.

Knowing that healthcare leaders make decisions based on the best available science, SHEA sought to create a scientifically compelling consensus statement on HCW vaccination. They brought together leading voices in infection prevention including the Society for Post-Acute and Long-Term Care Medicine, the Association for Professionals in Epidemiology and Infection Control, the HIV Medicine Association, the Infectious Diseases Society of America, the Pediatric Infectious Diseases Society, and the Society of Infectious Diseases Pharmacists.

Developing consensus statements among numerous complex organizations typically takes months or years. SHEA set the ambitious goal of achieving this within eight weeks. The urgency of the situation demanded it.

SHEA turned to their long-time partner – The Reis Group – to develop a communications strategy for releasing the consensus statement in a way that would increase attention for the issue and the science, and ultimately embolden healthcare providers to act – to implement vaccine mandates as a condition of employment for HCWs.

Research and insights. Our Agency used our proven media audit process to assess national coverage of many organizations announcing COVID-focused policies around masking, remote working, and testing protocols. This process allowed us to effectively identify which specific reporters and outlets had covered these announcements, what angles most powerfully drove their coverage, and which experts and organizations were most frequently quoted as reliable sources in top articles. We also conducted research to understand specifically how statements from coalitions were covered, and which organizations were identified prominently. This would better enable our Agency to effectively position SHEA as the leader of the consensus statement, while also acknowledging the important contributions of its partners.

Additionally, we then worked with SHEA to understand their particular goals for positioning and extending the media reach of the statement. This helped us prioritize key outlets and identify spokespersons with strong media experience who represented a wide range of expertise, from employment law to public policy to disease transmission.

Execution and tactics. We received confirmation of publication on July 12, 2021, just one day in advance, and used that time to quickly put our media strategy into motion. We distributed a strongly worded media advisory about our virtual news conference, while offering the press release and interviews to key reporters–under embargo. A pre-embargo interview was arranged with The Washington Post, which was the specific top priority outlet for the client. Leading up to the virtual news conference, we aggressively followed up with multiple reporters. The briefing was recorded so it could be shared with any reporters unable to attend due to the short turnaround time.

The virtual news conference on July 13 featured SHEA leaders, including co-authors who represented expertise in the science of vaccination, implementation of mandatory vaccination policies, and the legal issues around mandates. Twelve additional reporters attended the live briefing, and several others requested access to press materials and/or a recording of the press briefing.

Campaign Impact. Results were immediate and continuous. As a result of our pitching, briefing, and embargo strategy, the highly influential Washington Post published its article as soon as the embargo was lifted at the start of the virtual briefing. Forbes, The Hill, and many top healthcare trade publications subsequently followed with substantial stories. Within several days of our launch, more than 49 articles appeared, mostly in highly influential publications.  

Within just three days of SHEA’s announcement, University of Chicago Medical Center, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, and Vanderbilt University Medical Center – all prominent and influential institutions – adopted vaccination mandate policies.

Thirteen days later, a group of 60 healthcare organizations issued a similar statement urging vaccine requirements for employees throughout the healthcare system. Their letter, which SHEA also signed, cited the SHEA statement for support of a strong call for universal vaccine mandates for healthcare workers. Following SHEA’s lead, other organizations, such as the American Hospital Association and the Association of American Medical Colleges, cited our client’s statement in announcing their own support for vaccines policies.

Within two months, at least 209 organizations including Kaiser Permanente, Trinity Health, Banner Health, Atrium Health, and the Veterans Health Administration adopted policies mandating vaccination as a condition of employment. The Biden Administration issued national mandates for Medicare and Medicaid providers. The traction on social media was impressive and sustained over 60 days. SHEA’s social media posts about the statement, the authors’ posts and those from the reporters and media outlets covering the story resulted in more than 28 thousand engagements and over 600 shares on Twitter and Facebook, plus 733 plays of SHEA’s podcast.

Ultimately, the adoption spread far beyond healthcare workers, with New York City, the state of California, large employers such as Google and Facebook, and ultimately the federal government itself instituting vaccination mandates.