Patterico's Pontifications


How To Reach The Vaccine Skeptics

Filed under: General — Dana @ 12:46 pm

[guest post by Dana]

CDC Director Wallensky set off a storm of anger when when was discussing Covid-19 and said:

This is becoming a pandemic of the unvaccinated

A few details:

The U.S. is now averaging about 26,000 new cases per day — up 70% from the previous week, Walensky said. Hospitalizations are up 36%, and deaths are up 26%, to an average of 211 per day.

Roughly 66% of eligible Americans have gotten at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, and about 57% are fully vaccinated.

That is enough vaccinations to avoid another wave as bad as the worst of the pandemic, when the U.S. was averaging more than 3,000 deaths per day. But it is still low enough that another wave of illness death, largely confined to the unvaccinated, is still very much a possibility.

Over 97% of the people currently hospitalized for severe COVID-19 infections were unvaccinated, according to the CDC.

Further, vaccinations have slowed down considerably just as the rate of Delta variant infections has increased, and that’s a problem:

But with the highly transmissible Delta variant now circulating — mostly among the unvaccinated — the United States is seeing spikes in infections that have turned into increases in hospitalizations in some communities…

Vaccines are absolutely helping blunt the impact of these outbreaks — both the size and the toll in sickness and death. But vaccine uptake isn’t to the point yet where it can preclude increases in hospitalizations and deaths.

Put another way, without vaccines, the outbreaks in Nevada, Missouri, Arkansas, and elsewhere with low immunization rates would be worse, and other states would be more vulnerable to similar spikes.

“This is a new phase of the pandemic,” Jay Butler, the deputy director for infectious diseases at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention…“We’re seeing positive effects of the vaccination problem, but at the same time … it ain’t over ’til it’s over. We’re continuing to see transmission occurring, and we have a significant portion of the population that is unimmunized.”

One question to consider is, what is the most effective way to persuade vaccine-skeptic Americans to take the vaccine in light of the dramatic slowdown of vaccinations and the increase of the Delta variant. Michael B. Dougherty at NRO offers his thoughts:

Proponents of the vaccine are unwilling or unable to understand the thinking of vaccine skeptics — or even admit that skeptics may be thinking at all. Their attempts to answer skepticism or understand it end up poisoned by condescension, and end up reinforcing it.

Now first, it’s important for streets to run both ways, so I’ll offer that proponents have trouble doing this because many of the most prominent anti-vaxxers do indulge in conspiratorial thinking. Some of it is politically motivated; people may remember that while Trump was president, prominent Democrats expressed their fears about the corruption of the research process based on nothing more than their intuition.

Many people who have taken the vaccine have done so without the slightest sign of serious side effects and strongly associate doing it with the abatement of their fear and the justified relaxation of strictures on their life. They associate lack of vaccine take-up with the possibility of more restrictions. For vaccine proponents, it feels like lowering themselves to answer people they believe to be less intelligent. They will also likely have experience of running into people who use any and every argument against vaccination — whether or not the arguments cohere or are contradictory. So the idea of doing more intellectual work to answer people you think are morons, or are arguing in bad faith, is simply beyond them.

I don’t know about the writer’s personal experience in dealing with people who are against vaccine skeptical and how he feels about them, but I am one of those people who took the vaccine, didn’t experience any serious side effects, and still don’t look at people who won’t take the vaccine as “morons”. Reckless, yes. Frustrating, yes. Potentially putting others at risk, yes. Prolonging the pandemic, yes! But I can still hold a conversation with them, be polite, and kind while still remain ever-hopeful they will change their minds.

Anyway, here is the nub of his opinion on how the vaccinated need to adjust their approach to the unvaccinated if they have any hope of persuasion:

Getting skeptics on board will require abandoning efforts that seem like open manipulation in defiance of the evidence. It will also mean leveling with people. An ad might acknowledge that indeed there aren’t long-term studies and cannot be any when we are responding to a sudden pandemic, but it could offer medical reasoning to trust that long-term health complications due to these vaccines are unlikely, given how few short-term complications there have been. A public-health campaign would give context to the information about vaccine reactions reported on the government’s own websites — such as the VAERs system — and explain how the government assesses them. In the absence of this, skeptics will take the word of whoever is willing to give this information context.

The American people are unruly and in a sour mood about their authority figures. The 40 percent of people who reported their initial hesitance have barely budged so far — despite millions wasted on public education and ham-fisted attempts to prevent them from sharing their concerns and fears. If vaccine advocates really do want vaccination uptake to increase more than they want to feel superior, they have to change course.

The thing is, we can speak from personal experience: I have a number of family members who have opted not to be vaccinated. Several are nature-types and have concerns about the long-term effects of the vaccine, while a few others who are young fall into the group that isn’t all that concerned about getting Covid-19 because they believe youth and good health are on their side. And then a few, who live in very isolated regions, fall into the group that views government with a healthy dose of skepticism in general: Why should we trust a vaccine that’s been so fast-tracked to Americans? None of them, thankfully believe in the chip-under-the-skin nonsense or any of the other bizarre and completely nutso conspiracy theories surrounding the vaccine. However, when talking to them and trying to persuade them to see the wisdom in getting a vaccination, I have not held them in contempt nor felt superior to them. It seems an overstatement but perhaps Dougherty knows this firsthand or from the Twitters. I have been exasperated by the more “colorful” moments in our discussions where they bring up an absurd scenario and use an out-of-normal range possibility as a norm when it clearly isn’t. Anyway, my point is: it’s quite possible to work to persuade people with logic and science to get the vaccine and without viewing them as freaks or terrible people when they choose not to. But in my personal experience, it doesn’t matter how you approach these resisters – they are adults who have already settled on a point of view, and they seem determined to stick to their guns no matter what anyone says. Or maybe it’s because I am the one trying to persuade them… I used to think that surely if one of them got Covid-19, it would change the other family members’ minds. One of them got Covid-19, and none of them changed their minds about the vaccine. Does that mean that I should give up trying to persuade them though? No, I don’t think so. Because once in a while, I’m sure someone, somewhere has changed the mind of a loved one or a neighbor or a co-worker. And that makes every effort, even if it requires shaping the message in a particular way for a particular listener, worth it. Moreover, if that responder needs reassurances that I am not judging them or don’t think they are a moron then I’m willing to do that too, while still remaining honest about the issue. It certainly can’t hurt, and it might possibly result in something positive – like someone opting to be vaccinated.

[Caveat: I believe anti-vaxxers are the exceptions. I think that individuals who shun vaccines altogether are true believers, and no one is going to change their minds. If they can’t be persuaded to protect their own children with basic childhood vaccinations then there is almost zero hope that the Covid-19 vaccine will make a difference. ]

PS I have well-educated neighbors who have listened to all of the experts, read untold numbers of reports about the vaccine, etc., and yet because their hairdresser has shunned the vaccine and filled their minds with nonsense, they have opted to listen to *her* rather than those who know what they’re talking about. There’s no accounting for people and their behavior.


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