Best known for his turn as Pawnee town official Ron Swanson, the actor and real-life Midwesterner Nick Offerman brings the campaign to improve U.S. vaccine confidence a bit of star power.
WASHINGTON (CN) — More than half a century after Elvis got the polio vaccine on "The Ed Sullivan Show," policymakers are well aware of what the right celebrity endorsement can do to move the proverbial needle.
The House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee flexed that same muscle Wednesday as the United States hurtles toward its July 4 goal of vaccinating 70% of the country against Covid-19.
Delivering remote testimony before the committee this morning, the actor Nick Offerman did not technically speak in the voice of his anti-bureaucracy TV character Ron Swanson but, with his trademark deadpan delivery, still achieved the effect of giving his everyman’s take on the pandemic.
“As an actor and woodworker, I will not be offering medical advice today. I leave that to the scientists and medical experts on the panel, aka the 'smart people.' Instead, I would like to represent the rest of the citizens who are not epidemiologists, also known as 'the ignorant,'" Offerman said. “Ignorance is an area in which I can claim some authority and it is from that perch I would like to communicate why it is extremely important that we all get vaccinated.”
On NBC’s "Parks and Recreation," Offerman’s former role as Ron — a gruff but gooey-centered government employee resistant to all authority except for the makers of Lagavulin whisky — made the real-life Midwesterner a good conduit to amp vaccine appeal to the masses.
From the start of the Covid-19 crisis, authorities in the U.S. have struggled to turn conversations about the virus and the vaccine from one focused on politics to a one about public health. About half of all American adults fully vaccinated today, leaving the country at a tenuous corner to reach its Independence Day benchmark.
Offerman said he hoped his appearance not just as an actor with a familiar face but as a small business owner — he runs a custom furniture business in Los Angeles — would encourage people to get the shot and realize that they can truly start resuming something that looks like “life as normal” if they do.
With his employees all vaccinated and his furniture business is back open, Offerman said it’s back to normal in the wood shop — albeit still following CDC guidelines on masks and social distancing.
Additionally, because of the ubiquity of vaccines in California, he touted the recent reopening of his nonprofit organization Would Works, which teaches woodworking skills to people experiencing homelessness, after being closed for over a year.
Like many Americans, Offerman said he is part of a family with members who have been resistant to getting the vaccine because of disinformation and misinformation campaigns that have dominated social media. Back home in Minooka, Illinois, Offerman has an extended family of nearly 40 people. When one lawmaker asked him Wednesday how he works on persuading those tough cases, he described what amounted to a rather Swanson-like pragmatism: Tell them you love them, explain they won’t be able to see each other until everyone is vaccinated, stick to that and hope their desire to see their own family overrides the disinformation.
“Medicine doesn’t care who you voted for. We amazing humans have created a vaccine that serves the common good. The vaccine doesn’t take sides unless you count alive versus dead,” Offerman said.
Hesitancy around taking the vaccine for many in America stems in part from the speed with which it was developed and manufactured. First, the vaccine was not developed from zero; researchers the world over and including at the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Disease in the U.S. had already spent more than 40 years studying SARS, the family of respiratory viruses from which coronavirus sprang. Though it would normally take anywhere from 10 to 15 years on average to produce a vaccine from start to finish, with the world suddenly paralyzed by Covid-19, it was all hands on deck to get the vaccines rolling.