The new, upbeat ‘Sleeves Up, NOLA’ campaign deftly uses local personalities and the Carnival dance culture to encourage citizens to get a Covid shot.
By Jan Hoffman
- Jan. 24, 2021
The snap of the snare drums is insistent. New Orleanians take joyous turns high-stepping and chicken strutting, dressed in the hand-sewn feathered finery of their social clubs and krewes. The celebration, shown on a new 30-second public service announcement airing in the city, is both resplendent and aching, an evocation of Carnival masking season that should have begun this month, culminating on Feb. 16 with Mardi Gras. All of it canceled, of course, by the coronavirus pandemic.
Yet the spot is hopeful: to regain this and more, it exhorts, get vaccinated.
The advertisement is one of numerous efforts around the country to persuade people of the importance of getting a Covid shot. But its homegrown approach, using neighborhood personas and invoking local culture with “laissez les bons temps rouler” dance moves and costumes, may make it particularly effective, say experts in vaccine hesitance and behavioral change.
“I’m getting the vaccine so we can have Mardi Gras, y’all!” shouts Jeremy Stevenson, a Monogram Hunter Mardi Gras Indian, also known as Second Chief Lil Pie, as he sways wildly in a 150-pound, 12-foot-tall tower of turquoise feathers and beading, beneath the Claiborne Avenue overpass, a well-known festival meet-up.
Other locals prance forth to offer their own reasons, concluding with the tagline: “Sleeves Up, NOLA!”
“I teared up several times and also just laughed out loud with delight. The sense of community is contagious,” said Alison M. Buttenheim, a vaccine behavioral expert at the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing who is most decidedly not a New Orleanian.
“Vaccination is framed as a collective action that everyone can contribute to in order to bring back things the community values and cherishes,” added Dr. Buttenheim, the scientific director of the university’s Center for Health Incentives and Behavioral Economics.
Although national vaccine hesitation rates are falling, surveys show that antipathy to the new shots is still widespread among some demographic groups, jeopardizing the goal of broad immunity. There has been little consensus, much less activity, around ways to build confidence in the shot.