Avoiding vax convos with loved ones in Indiana this holiday season? This campaign says Bring It Up!

When family and old friends gather for the holiday season, controversial topics, like politics and religion, sometimes make an unwelcome appearance on the guest list.

This year, many groups gathering (after a hiatus in 2020) will confront a new complex subject at the dinner table: COVID-19 vaccinations. But while avoiding the topic altogether might seem more tempting than a bountiful feast, former Fort Wayne resident Nathan Gotsch is encouraging vaccinated Hoosiers not just to cope with vaccine conversations this holiday season, but also to bring up these critical topics with their unvaccinated loved ones. 

Nathan Gotsch

Now based in Los Angeles, Gotsch launched a campaign, aptly named Bring It Up, in Fort Wayne to encourage vaccinated residents to reach out to unvaccinated friends or family members about the vaccine. According to estimates in mid-November, about 3.4 million Hoosiers are fully vaccinated against the virus, which is about half of the state's 2019 population of 6.732 million. This lands Indiana in a tie with Louisville for the fifth worst vaccination rate in the U.S., according to U.S. News & World Report

To move the needle on these numbers in a community where his family still lives, Gotsch started Bright It Up to encourage people of different beliefs to engage one-on-one either in person, on the phone, or in video calls to create a sense of connection. The Bring It Up approach is unique in that it targets the vaccinated population, urging them to have conversations with unvaccinated individuals who they know and already have a relationship with rather than the masses on social media. Instead of trying to persuade, participants are given helpful guidelines to broach the subject more productively, asking their friends or family if they are vaccinated, sharing their own reasons for getting vaccinated, and then offering to help their loved ones, if needed. BringItUp.org provides more tips on how to have these conversations, as well as information and sources. 

With a background in entertainment, communications, and education, Gotsch felt that he was uniquely positioned to help people facilitate these conversations and raise vaccine rates to reduce COVID-19-related deaths, which are 11 times more likely among unvaccinated patients.

Input Fort Wayne spoke with Gotsch to learn more about Bring It Up and why he chose to launch this campaign in his Northeast Indiana hometown.

IFW: Can you tell us more about Bring It Up and what led you to launch this campaign?

NG: All of last year, I was sitting in my apartment in Los Angeles, watching the case numbers in Allen County because I have so many friends and family who live there, and I was feeling very much frustrated that there was nothing I could do to help improve the level of health and safety in the community. When they announced the vaccines at the end of last year, it was incredibly exciting. I remember having a call with my mom. We were so happy; it felt like we were finally going to get back to normal. 

Over the course of 2021, it’s unfortunately become more controversial than I anticipated. I had an opportunity myself to participate in one of the vaccine trials last year before the vaccines came out, and I turned it down because I was worried and concerned about what the possible risks would be. So I certainly understood people’s hesitation because I had it myself. I felt like there might be an opportunity for me to help raise the vaccine rates in an area that I care a lot about and hopefully understand and have a sense of how to try to reach these people and have these conversations, which data shows are the most effective way to change someone’s mind about getting vaccinated.

Access to information and personal conversations impacts vaccination rates.

IFW: How does Bring It Up work? How do people get involved?

NG: It’s as simple as the name of our organization. They just bring up the vaccine with someone who they suspect might not be vaccinated. This is not something where we ask people to try to convince a friend or family member to change their mind. Just the act of engaging and wanting to find out why that person is not vaccinated can lead to a stronger connection and relationship. 

So many of us are feeling isolated; we’re defensive about the choices that we’re making, and I think a lot of friendships have frayed during the last 18+ months. Reconnecting with people and wanting them to know that you care is a way to get people to lower some of the walls that we all have up. 

Ultimately, there’s a wide spectrum of people who aren’t vaccinated. You don’t know what your friends and family are worried about, what their fears are, unless you have a conversation with them and ask. The thing that we have to remember is the circumstances today for that person who is unvaccinated; the only thing I can guarantee you is those circumstances are going to change as time goes forward. There are all kinds of things that will not be the same in two weeks or in two months as they are today. 

We also have to stop thinking about people as either unvaccinated or vaccinated and start thinking about them in terms of ‘Have they been vaccinated yet?’ 

Data shows vaccine resistance is steadily declining.

IFW: How is this campaign different from other vaccine initiatives?

NG: What we’re doing that’s different is we are not messaging to unvaccinated people. We’re not telling them to get vaccinated. We are only focused on reaching vaccinated people and asking them to have those conversations. What we’ve found, and what the research shows, is when an unvaccinated person is talked at by someone who’s a community leader or public health official, that is much less effective than when it’s someone who they know and have a relationship with. It could be a friend and family member; it could also be their doctor who they feel a level of trust with. 

The top down model of public health messaging hasn’t been working as effectively as leveraging the relationships that already exist. We have a lot of good information that’s coming from these vertical, top down networks. The misinformation is being spread horizontally in the social networks, and the problem is: We have to fight that in the same manner. We have to fight it in those horizontal human-to-human networks.

Because no one else I've seen is looking at it this way, it gives me hope because we are trying something different at Bring It Up. If we can show that this way is more effective, communities all over the country, I hope, will basically steal what we’re doing and adapt it for themselves.

IFW: Can you talk about what inspired you to launch Bring It Up here in Fort Wayne?

NG: There are a couple of reasons why I wanted to do it in Fort Wayne. First of all, it’s a community I still care a lot about. It’s a big city with a small-town feel. Also, it felt like I could tap into those relationships and sense of connection that exists. Ironically, that’s what this campaign is all about. 

Fort Wayne is a community that really values caring for other people and being a place of connection. That is the reason to get vaccinated. Besides just yourself, your vaccination status impacts other people and your ability to do things for others, which has been a value that I was taught and raised with living in Fort Wayne. That’s one of the key things that makes the city so great. 

IFW: What are your thoughts on Fort Wayne, as a former resident who’s moved away? 

NG: I’m encouraged everyday by the people that I meet and connect with in the city, from how committed they are to keeping it a great place to live and raise a family, to really caring about the safety of their neighbors. 

I went to grade school downtown. From the time I was five, I was going down to Barr Street five days a week. I remember what it was like in 1989, and it’s a completely different feel in 2021. There were a lot of people who had a vision for the city, and there were many people that said, "This is never going to work." But those visionaries pushed through and pushed forward, and the proof is in the Tincaps stadium; it’s in the new Bradley hotel; it’s in the Ash Brokerage building, and it’s in Promenade Park. 

That same kind of belief that "This is the right thing to do, even if we have a lot of naysayers,” is behind what we’re trying to do at Bring It Up, too. I certainly understand that there are a lot of people who think what we’re doing is not going to work. But the truth is, the only time you accomplish big and hard things is when you’re willing to try anyway.

While it's too early to tell the ultimate effects of COVID-19 on Fort Wayne's housing market, realtors say residents from bigger cities are moving here.

IFW: Are there any success stories or responses to the campaign that you want to share?

NG: I’ve had people contact me and ask specifically for help in how to talk to a particular friend or family member. It’s helped reinforce to me the need for any kind of guidance and encouragement, which is what we’re all about. The thing that is challenging about what we’re doing is, most people don’t talk to their friends about the vaccine and then decide to go get vaccinated in that moment. We’re hearing stories of people who are saying, "I talked to my friend, and eventually, they ended up getting vaccinated." Ultimately, that’s going to be the majority of what we see, if we’re successful. 

I’m also really encouraged by what I’m hearing from people who are saying, "This gave me the courage to talk to someone who I was questioning whether they’re vaccinated." We’re hearing back from people who are having these conversations, and we’re working on getting them the information that would be helpful to reach those people once they have a specific understanding of the root of their hesitancy or resistance to getting vaccinated. 

IFW: What impact do you hope Bring It Up will have?

NG: I think about my brother-in-law’s restaurant business and what it would be like for them if there’s another surge this winter. Not just keeping the doors open, but also their employees who depend upon that business to take care of their own families. I think about my grandmother who is in her 80s and is fully vaccinated. It’s very possible if she’s out and about in the community getting groceries, going to church, that she’s going to run into someone who has COVID, and she could get sick or potentially die because other people are unvaccinated. That’s the thing that we don’t like to think about. 

There has been this narrative that getting vaccinated is a choice, that’s up to you, and you can decide what you want, and you need to respect other people’s choices. That’s one of our core values, right? This individual freedom that we have. But there’s also a societal freedom that we don’t talk about as much. If I had the freedom to drive however I wanted, and there were no safety laws, and there were no traffic regulations, that would mean it was unsafe for everyone else to drive. So I follow those rules that limit my individual freedom, so that we all have the collective freedom to be able to travel safely. 

We need to be thinking about that collective freedom we have as a community, just as much as this individual freedom to do whatever we want. There are people who are vulnerable in our community who are depending on us to protect them. There is an urgent and important motivation for those of us who are vaccinated to do what we can to get our unvaccinated friends and family to the point where they feel comfortable getting vaccinated themselves.
Enjoy this story? Sign up for free solutions-based reporting in your inbox each week.