I’m pro-vaccine but I have a lot of love and respect for my friends who disagree with me. I’m sick of seeing the government strong arm and shame people into vaccines. It’s not helping anyone. It’s only making the situation worse.
Ideas that have been floated to get people to take the COVID vaccine have included ID cards to show you have been vaccinated, limiting travel and other access for unvaccinated, and offering stimulus money only for those who have been vaccinated. None of these seem quite right to me. Any incentive or punishment is seen by the anti-vax community as only evidence that their fears are real and that the government is infringing on their freedom. People are hurting economically right now, we shouldn’t force anyone to do something to earn that money.
So, what should we do? First, we need to look at what we are facing:
We are in the middle of a global pandemic. Nothing this year has gone as planned. Everyone is in a constant state of panic. If you’re empathetic like me you can probably relate, a trip to the store can be exhausting at times because of the sheer amount of fear oozing off of everyone.
Fear is the major driver in the growth of conspiracy theories and rumors. We want to feel like we’re in control. We want to feel like we know something when everything just seems so unknowable. Scared people are easily manipulated.
Everything involving COVID has become hyper-political. If you wear a mask, you’re not a true conservative. You need to have a huge Thanksgiving to “own the Liberals.” Even believing there is a pandemic can get you kicked out of some circles.
Long before COVID, we had an active and growing anti-vax movement in this country. For the last couple of generations, most people just assumed what their doctors told them was the absolute truth and they trusted that vaccines were safe and important. As our trust in government and other authority figures have eroded in recent decades, so has our trust in doctors. The availability of more information on the internet has lead to more questions and some doctors have either not answered those questions or did not answer those questions well. The people with questions have found other people with questions and formed a movement that has grown alongside other movements like homeschooling and all-natural living. They still have good questions and those questions are still either ignored or not answered well.
Another important factor is that these vaccines have been developed under an administration that half the country does not trust. They are worried that it has been rushed and that it won’t be safe. They are worried that it will include things that they don’t want like microchips.
All of this has created a perfect storm where, yes, it is possible that huge portions of our population will refuse to be vaccinated against a deadly pandemic. But to punish them or reward them is to treat them like petulant children. Anti-vaxxers, in my observation, are NOT children. They are intelligent, questioning adults who are trying to do the best they can for themselves and their children. They cannot be shamed, punished, or humiliated into changing their opinion. Instead of resorting to our old ways of getting people to vaccinate, ways that have stopped working, let’s all be adults and find a better way.
Here are my modest suggestions:
Answer Their Questions
Instead of laughing them off as absurd, answer the questions!
You can safely assume that the questions come from a good place. They are concerned about their families and communities, too. They’ve done their research, although you might not be the biggest fan of their sources.
Don’t make any assumptions about their views. Just because they have questions doesn’t mean they believe vaccines cause autism or any other vaccine concern.
Answer honestly and fully.
Make a cheat sheet for anyone who is giving out the vaccine to answer their questions. Have a doctor, a former anti-vaxxer, and a counselor in the committee making said cheat sheet so it’s true and it’s loving.
Truth is crap without love. Love is crap without truth.
Let People Keep Their Exemptions
It seems counter-intuitive, but let people keep their religious, moral and health exemptions. People just want the choice and the freedom, it doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll take it. Just because they can doesn’t mean more people will.
Making exemptions harder to obtain is not changing anyone’s mind, it’s just making them resent the system even more. People are smart, they will find a way around what you are asking of them. If they cannot work around it, they’re just going to hate you for making them do it and will be less likely to trust you in the future. Yes, you’re our authority, not our best friend, but authorities need to be trusted and respected to stay in power.
Also, eliminating the exemptions and strong-arming people is only making conspiracy theories stronger. People will rightly question why the government is putting so much on a shot.
Better Role Models
I think one of the easiest steps should be to get leaders of all political stripes to get the vaccine on national TV. I see them attempting to do that with the last three presidents agreeing to it, but that just won’t be enough. George W. Bush just doesn’t have any pull in the current Republican party.
Try to get a Trump to do it. If not, work your way down the VIP list until you get someone to agree to it.
Better yet, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. He is not anti-vaccines, per se, he just has a lot of hard questions. If you can answer his questions and get him to do it, that would be the best person to have on that stage.
Do you have any suggestions? How can we make this better this time?
No one has ever done anything or changed their minds about anything by being forced into it. You can’t bribe someone into abandoning long-held beliefs. It is bad for both parties when one party treats the other like a child. We have been messing up the vaccine debate for a long time. Let’s just try to get it right for once.