April 19, 2021

divided challenge

Half of the eligible US adults have received at least one COVID-19 vaccine. More doses are on their way. And yet, there is a big divide. Vaccine hesitancy is rearing it ugly head which is slowing down the goal of getting as many vaccinated as possible. Fortunately, at least 80% of teachers and workers in schools have been vaccinated already, but at least 25% of health care workers are reluctant.

This widening gap due to politics is threatening our success in ending the pandemic here in the US. A new Monmouth University poll reveals that only 5% of Democrats will never get the vaccine, but as many as 43% of Republicans say they will never get the vaccine, while 22% of Independents will not get vaccinated. Public Health officials and other health care workers are particularly challenged by the ones who decline.

This will also be a more dangerous time for those who opt out of the vaccines, especially if they live in areas where more decline the vaccine, as is happening in Eastern Washington. In particular, Republican men are resistant to getting the vaccine. Conspiracy theories and cognitive biases are not helping the situation. These groups will remain at risk in areas that have more virus circulating.

The Washington Post has a very good in-depth article describing the challenges the VA (Veterans Administration) health care workers are having in getting high risk patients vaccinated in rural areas of Idaho and Montana.

Reaching and changing minds is a real challenge. Scolding and fear mongering won’t help. An interesting study in helping people avoid conspiracy theories is allowing free will. This makes sense when I think about it. We can all hold on a little harder to our beliefs and ideas when pressured to let go of them. Asking questions to understand concerns is important. Sometimes we can give them resources that have more reliable data to counteract what they saw on line. Finding out what would convince them the vaccines are safe may also be an opportunity. What seems most effective in many of the stories I read is when you ask them “Why would you get a vaccine?” Often it is for someone else: “for my mom so I can go visit” or “for my husband so he doesn’t get sick”. At that point, they may be ready to change their mind.

We need to keep in mind that vaccines that we have are still under “Emergency Use Authorization” and their final approval is still pending awaiting more data and formal FDA approval. Many may come on board the vaccine train as they see more people safely vaccinated and the “Emergency Use” label is replaced with “Approved”.

In the meantime, I fear the pockets of hold outs will continue to have outbreaks. Sigh.

Wash your hands, cover your nose, keep safe six, patience and gentleness may help some one decide to get a jab.