The Biden administration awarded a $150 million contract extension to a market research firm that encourages vaccinations, as the White House struggles to convince more Americans to get shots and ward off spikes in Covid-19 cases.
The Department of Health and Human Services gave the Arlington, Va.-based Fors Marsh Group LLC a second communications contract that will continue into 2022, as 30% of U.S. adults remain unvaccinated against Covid-19 as of this week. At the same time, the U.S. is seeing an average of more than 80,000 Covid-19 cases per day for the first time since February amid the spread of the highly contagious Delta variant, according to Bloomberg’s virus tracker.
Fors Marsh will continue its work implementing a “behavioral change social marketing effort” to get more Americans vaccinated, the company said in an announcement on its website. HHS hired the firm to oversee its We Can Do This campaign, an effort to convince skeptical Americans to embrace the vaccines, according to the contract. The latest extension was awarded last week and hasn’t been previously reported.
HHS officials under the Trump administration first awarded Fors Marsh a $300 million contract in late August 2020 to raise public awareness about the efficacy and safety of Covid-19 vaccines developed under Operation Warp Speed. The campaign promised to “defeat despair and inspire hope,” and “instill confidence to return to work and restart the economy,” according to an internal document first obtained by Politico.
The campaign’s focus on “reopening America” clashed with the then-recommendations of numerous public health officials—including Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases—who advocated for greater restrictions on public gatherings.
That Trump-era campaign inspired a congressional probe. Reps. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.), and Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Ill.), who all head oversight panels, wrote to HHS last September with “grave concerns” that the campaign was largely political propaganda.
Their concerns stemmed from the fact that the campaign was overseen by Michael Caputo, a Republican operative and one-time Trump campaign staffer who was hired to run HHS’s communication department earlier in 2020.
Caputo stepped down from his role at HHS after claiming health officials had mounted a “resistance unit” to Trump.
Fors Marsh has done work with health agencies in the past. Its website lists the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Food and Drug Administration as clients.