As the South African National Department of Health (NDoH) rolled out COVID-19 vaccines, it faced numerous challenges in ensuring people knew how to get the vaccine and why.
Project Last Mile was engaged by USAID to support the NDoH in strengthening communications efforts to increase awareness and uptake of the COVID-19 vaccine. As a partnership with The Coca-Cola System, Project Last Mile applies best practices in marketing from the private sector to strengthen how the public sector communicates and generates demand for health services.
When Project Last Mile began supporting the NDoH on COVID-19 communications in August 2021, there was a range of messaging that had been developed to promote the vaccine, but the messaging had limited reach across the country. Project Last Mile developed a national media strategy to expand the reach of communications promoting the COVID-19 vaccine, making sure the messages could be seen across multiple channels, multiple times to increase awareness on who could get the vaccine, and continue reinforcing how and why to get vaccinated.
The national media campaign ran on a mix of mass media channels, including TV, radio, and digital – reaching an average of 27 million people across South Africa per month from September 2021to January 2022. During this period, South Africa’s vaccination rates increased from 10% of the population fully vaccinated to 29%, above an average of 13% across the rest of Africa. Working with commercial media agencies, Project Last Mile was also able to negotiate added value to increase the impact of USAID’s investment. On average, for every $1 USAID invested in the campaign, an additional $3 of added value was secured in discounts and donated media – this meant 3x the value for USAID’s investment in terms of reach and frequency of the media messages.
“As our vaccination program rolled out to the general public last year, we faced an urgent need to ensure the wider South African population were aware of how and why to get vaccinated, especially when less than 10% of the population was fully vaccinated at the time. The support provided by USAID and Project Last Mile to expand the reach and frequency of our communication to more than 30 million people through mass media campaigns, has been critical to achieving NDoH’s communication objectives and supporting the COVID-19 vaccine roll-out,” explained Nombulelo Leburu, Director of External Communications for the South African National Department of Health.
As the vaccine roll-out progressed, a need emerged to identify more innovative, non-traditional communications approaches to motivate vaccine uptake, especially amongst the youth. Feedback suggested that there was a desire for more two-way engagement, and youth-driven content. Young people in focus groups noted that “older people must make the space for young people to engage on the vaccination program, to assess their own risks and make their own choices – not to keep telling them what to do”.
With that in mind, Project Last Mile shifted its focus to test alternative approaches, focusing on incentivizing vaccine uptake and engaging youth in content creation and promotion. One approach was to partner with local TikTok content creators through a media agency to create their own content to promote vaccination in an easy-to-understand, engaging way.
TikTok content creators, such as Mareon Potgieter, were identified to help create engaging content to reinforce positive, fact-based messaging about vaccines.
“I was part of the vaccine campaign because I know a lot of people are very unsure about the vaccine. I wanted to encourage others to please get vaccinated because it helps to stop the spread of COVID-19, and the symptoms are less severe if you get it,” Mareon says.
The video that Mareon made was based on a popular trend on TikTok, adapted to promote excitement around getting vaccinated. Mareon’s video received almost 3 000 views within the first 30 minutes and has been viewed over 6 million times at the end of February 2022 (watch it here(link is external)). The viral video inspired other TikTok users to create their own videos, helping to spread the message far beyond South Africa to a global audience.
The campaign reached a total of 12 million engagements on TikTok and demonstrated a successful, alternative way of engaging youth around vaccines. Building on the success of the initial three-week TikTok campaign, Project Last Mile is testing a longer social media focused campaign on TikTok and Instagram in 2022.
In addition to leveraging non-traditional platforms like TikTok, Project Last Mile is also testing if nudges and incentives can help motivate vaccine uptake. In 2022, Project Last Mile will be working with Ipsos to conduct a national evaluation to test what types of nudges and incentives can motivate vaccine uptake across different population segments across South Africa. In addition, Project Last Mile is working with two local South African companies – Zlto and M4Jam – to pilot a digital rewards program around vaccines. Both platforms are being tested, primarily with younger populations 18 to 34, to test if rewards like airtime, electricity or cash vouchers can help motivate vaccine uptake.
Project Last Mile continues to test new approaches to build vaccine confidence across South Africa, leveraging its learnings to adapt and amplify efforts to motivate COVID-19 vaccine uptake.