COVID-19 has changed the way we meet up with family and friends this holiday season, as some families may be restricting large gatherings until guests are vaccinated or show proof of a negative test.
This may cause some tension among family members, but Emmy Award-winning actress Kerry Washington has teamed up with a group of advocates to make those conversations less awkward and hopefully more effective.
Today, they launched the national public service campaign, “The Costs of Waiting.” The campaign— backed by Blue Star Families, the National Consumers League, and Janssen, Pharmaceutical Companies of Johnson & Johnson— features a website with vaccine education resources, guidance, and expert tips from Dr. Stacy Wood, a leading behavior change expert and professor at North Carolina State.
“I’m vaccinated, my family members are vaccinated, and I noticed that even I have had a difficult time having the conversation,” Washington told ESSENCE. “When I’m confronted with a friend or family member who’s not vaccinated, I found myself flummoxed at times, not knowing what to say, because the emotions are so strong, the opinions are so strong, I don’t want to offend people that I love and respect.”
Dr. Wood noted that it’s understandable why people would be hesitant. “We know from the adoption of any new product, that there’s a process. It’s not that everyone lines up for it on day one. [Like with an] iPhone—anyone who tried to get parents to switch over to smartphones in the early days, that was a bit of struggle. And so we have to work together to help our friends and family see the importance of innovation. And that’s true in any new product or change.”
The Costs of Waiting campaign is unique, because it offers loved ones the ability to gain the tools to encourage their family and friends, instead of leaving the messaging entirely to experts and celebrities.
“What we look for is trusted messengers,” Washington stated. “It’s why something like Rotten Tomatoes is so important in my business. You have critics who review, but you also have the public review, because you trust trusted messengers. And the research shows us that the trusted messengers in most people’s lives— particularly around something that’s health and wellness related— are your friends and family members.
“That’s why for us,” she added, “this really is a reminder to people to say, ‘you think you’re doing somebody a favor by not having a difficult conversation. But it could cost us a great deal for you to not step into your power and be willing to have that conversation. You are the one who can save somebody’s life. Who could save somebody a tremendous amount of money. Who could save a relationship right now. [Who could] save a family.’”
The group’s PSA, released today, makes those stakes clear.
The website “offers people ways to start that conversation and to not have it devolve into a political conversation. This is not a debate. It’s a listening session,” Dr. Wood explained. “The conversation should start with the words ‘I love you’ and end with the words ‘I love you.’ And we offer lots of good tips. We’re trying to offer people some ways to help have that conversation where it’s positive and not something to be scared of.”
The site features a handy timeline for when and how to talk with friends and family, infographics with vaccination facts and figures, and tips to identify trusted information and news sources, among other guides.
Of course, the actress and director offered a clever reference to her former hit show, Scandal, for good measure. “As somebody who’s in the public eye, we get asked to speak on a topic. People will listen to you because you played Olivia Pope. And I think this campaign is so powerful, because I know that people really listen to the people that they love and respect in their own circle of influence. This campaign gives everybody the framework to be the Olivia Pope in their own family. But not by telling people what to do. But by being willing to listen, being willing to love each other out loud, and not being afraid to be uncomfortable for a moment, because it could provide lifesaving comfort in the long run.”