As of Nov. 1, 58% of all Americans, and 67.9% of those eligible based on age requirements, are fully vaccinated against COVID-19. While the U.S. is certainly in a better position than it was early this year, with sky-high cases and only certain groups of people eligible for the vaccine, the United States lags behind much of the rest of the world. While all Americans over the age of 12 are now eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine, some remain hesitant to get the shot.
It would be extremely difficult to convince “anti-vaxxers” to get their COVID-19 shots, but it may be possible to convince those who are vaccine-hesitant or skeptical to get vaccinated. There are a multitude of actions that citizens, trusted community figures and the government can take to convince people to get vaccinated.
As private citizens, there is little that we can do to convince people to get vaccinated. If you are vaccinated, it is likely that your friends are all vaccinated as well — or if they are not, you likely aren’t currently seeing your unvaccinated friends. Additionally, even if the vaccinated attempted to convince the unvaccinated to get their shots, they might go about it in an unproductive manner.
While individual attempts to convince people to get vaccinated may fail, vaccinated people can still engage in behavior that doesn’t demean people who are unvaccinated. This is a difficult thing to do — many people who are vaccinated are angry that they must continue practicing COVID-safe measures such as wearing masks and social distancing. However, shaming people for this decision doesn’t encourage vaccination.
More productive attempts to convince people to get vaccinated against COVID-19 come from people who are trusted in their communities. People who are vaccine-hesitant are being convinced of the safety, effectiveness and importance of the COVID-19 vaccine through conversations with community leaders, such as pastors and doctors. This is not an easy process. People must be unsure in their decision to remain unvaccinated, and will likely require individual conversations. Additionally, knowledge about the vaccine itself is essential, as is the ability to credibly and tactfully dispel falsehoods about the vaccine spread through conspiracy theories or misinformation.
While this process is time-consuming and requires community figureheads to agree to converse with their neighbors about the vaccine, this could be a powerful way to allow vaccine-hesitant people to understand that the vaccine is safe and effective. People are more likely to trust those they already know to provide sound advice than a government official or agency, especially if these individuals are already more skeptical of the government as a whole. Communication through powerful community leaders has the added benefit of avoiding government intervention, as some people who are skeptical of vaccines may not be persuaded by action by the government to enforce the vaccine through mandates. Republicans are less likely to get vaccinated than Democrats, in part due to low trust in the government, and therefore may be disinclined to get vaccinated due to a government mandate.
However, while some groups don’t respond well to government mandates, others do. There have been many different vaccine mandates implemented at different levels of government, whether federal, state and local. President Joe Biden required all federal employees to get vaccinated. The state of California added the COVID-19 vaccine to the list of school-required vaccinations. New York City, Los Angeles and San Francisco have all required the vaccine for various indoor activities. In addition to government mandates, private companies have taken steps to require a vaccine for the use and purchase of their products, as well as employment.
There is evidence that mandates from both the government and private companies work. The numbers from hospitals to airlines to the police demonstrate that people would rather get vaccinated than lose their jobs. While it is true there have been some examples of workers refusing their industry’s mandate to get vaccinated, it’s clear that generally, most people who are faced with this requirement get vaccinated. New York has seen an increased vaccination rate since its mandate went into effect in September. While public and private action is typically different, in this case, we are seeing that the effect of the mandate is the same; they encourage the unvaccinated to get their shots.
The impact of vaccine hesitancy and opposition is prolonging the COVID-19 pandemic, preventing people across the country and the world from returning to normal life. Because we will never be able to convince all Americans to get vaccinated, we must focus on convincing people who are unsure, rather than fully opposed, to get their shots. With the rate of vaccine hesitancy declining, we can continue to respectfully persuade people to get vaccinated through our actions as citizens and by encouraging people to speak with trusted community members. But, it is also critical for the government and private sector to take action to require a vaccine to participate in normal life.
Lydia Storella is an Opinion Columnist and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.