Publicity stunt near Carolina Panthers’ stadium gave stark message to the unvaccinated

·3 min read

A truck claiming to be from a funeral home was emblazoned with a blunt message Sunday while driving around Bank of America Stadium, where the Panthers were playing the New Orleans Saints: “Don’t get vaccinated.”

It remains unclear who might be behind the scare tactic urging people to finally get vaccinated against COVID-19.

The website for the “Wilmore Funeral Home” on the truck takes people to a site that simply says, “Get vaccinated now. If not, see you soon.”

That landing page redirects people to StarMed’s COVID-19 vaccine web page, which contains vaccine scheduling information and a lengthy list of commonly asked questions.

Dr. Arin Piramzadian, StarMed Healthcare’s chief medical officer, is hoping the unconventional strategy pays off, as the highly contagious delta variant continues to infect hundreds of unvaccinated Charlotte residents each day.

In an interview Monday morning, Piramzadian said he knows little about the marketing stunt in uptown Charlotte. It was not another quirky tactic from StarMed, though, which has a bold, yet lighthearted flair on social media that’s often poking fun at people who choose to ignore vaccinations or coronavirus guidelines.

“If this saves one person’s life by getting vaccinated, I’m 100% for it,” Piramzadian told the Observer.

“We know that 99% of people who are ending up in the hospital and dying are unvaccinated,” added Piramzadian, who first saw a photo of the truck on Facebook on Monday morning. “If that statistic does not scare people... I’m not sure what does. Perhaps a dark humor aspect such as this one does catch someone’s attention.”

Piramzadian does not know who paid for and deployed the truck.

Spokespeople for Atrium Health and Novant Health said neither hospital system was involved with the truck. Mecklenburg County Public Health did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Thousands of Panthers fans could have seen the truck traversing uptown Charlotte. Images, accompanied by cautious laughter and praise, have since gone viral on social media.

Also written on the truck was a phone number with an 803 area code, in South Carolina. To actually reach StarMed and register for a COVID vaccine, call 980-445-9818.

Hospital’s bleak COVID message

Some 59% of Mecklenburg County residents are at least partially vaccinated, according to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services. That compares to 56% of all North Carolinians who have received at least their first COVID shot.

Some of Mecklenburg County’s crucial coronavirus trends — including the positivity rate and hospitalizations — continued to narrowly improve in the past week, even as the death toll once again rose sharply.

County health officials reported 35 coronavirus-related deaths last week, bringing the local death toll to 1,126 on Friday morning.

Piramzadian said the truck’s message is “really no different than hospitals telling you to get vaccinated” to avoid intensive care treatment.

Atrium Health, for example, shared a bleak social media post about coronavirus-related deaths last week: “In August alone, COVID deaths were higher than the previous 4 months combined, with September COVID deaths on pace to be even higher. Please get vaccinated.”

Atrium had reported that 97% of coronavirus patients on life support were unvaccinated.

StarMed is one of Mecklenburg County Public Health’s key coronavirus testing and vaccination partners. Piramzadian thinks that’s the reason why the unknown marketer directed people to StarMed, instead of other healthcare providers.

“We have a very huge presence in Charlotte,” Piramzadian said. “Honestly, I just believe that whoever is doing this just wants people to get vaccinated.”