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Millions of people say nothing (not even their own doctor) could convince them to get the COVID vaccine

Doctor convince COVID vaccine - anti-vaxxers
Photo via GoToVan/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

The delta COVID variant is spreading at an alarming rate, but despite this fact, the number of people who refuse to get a vaccine remains at an all-time high, according to multiple polls. In fact, there are a number of people who say nothing—not even advice from their own doctor—could convince them to get the COVID vaccine.

According to the latest version of the Axios/Ipsos Coronavirus Index, 30% of U.S. adults have yet to get the COVID-19 vaccine, and half of those surveyed are unlikely to ever seek one. The government has employed numerous tactics in an effort to sway the vaccine-hesitant, but many have fallen on deaf ears.

Door-to-door campaigns, celebrity endorsements, and pleas from loved ones have all proven unsuccessful in changing the unvaccinated mindset.

The survey revealed a few specific scenarios in which unvaccinated people may consider getting their COVID-19 jabs. Twenty-six percent of those surveyed say they may get the vaccine at their primary care provider’s office, and 25% say they might take the time to get a shot if they are given paid time off for the appointment. Despite these positive responses, a strong majority (55%) stated they would be “not at all likely” to get the vaccine, regardless of outreach efforts.

Another poll, this time conducted by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, found that 35% of unvaccinated Americans say they “probably will not,” while 45% say they “definitely will not” get the COVID-19 vaccine even if their doctor or loved ones attempted to convince them.

“We always knew some proportion of the population would be difficult to persuade no matter what the data showed, (and) a lot of people are beyond persuasion,” Dr. Amesh Adalja, an infectious disease specialist at John Hopkins University, told AP News. 

Is a vaccine mandate needed to beat COVID-19?

President Joe Biden announced new requirements for federal workers to be vaccinated in a speech addressing the 90 million Americans who are eligible for a vaccine but have yet to receive one. He is also reportedly urging local and state governments to offer a cash incentive to those willing to get the shot voluntarily. 

Biden has additionally asked the Defense Department to consider adding the COVID-19 vaccine to the almost two dozen inoculations that are required for service members, according to the Washington Post. This request would affect around 1.5 million troops, many of whom have resisted getting a COVID-19 jab, according to the New York Times.

Biden’s announcement was met with instant pushback, with some calling it a “clear civil rights violation.” Multiple precedents, including a 1905 court case and guidance issued by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, appear to allow for the government’s action, however. 

The Biden administration is hoping the new directive will encourage state and local governments, as well as private companies, to push more aggressively for vaccination for their employees, clients, and constituents, according to the Post.

The effort seems to have paid off. More than 70 hospital systems and other health care providers are now requiring vaccinations for front-line workers. More than 500 colleges and universities are reportedly requiring some of their students and employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19. Numerous businesses, including Netflix, Saks Fifth Avenue, the Washington Post, Ascension Health, Lyft, and Google announced policies that require vaccination as a condition of employment.

“Every little bit helps,” Dr. Aaron Carroll, chief health officer of Indiana University, told NBC News. “The reason mandates work is because they’re nudges. If we make the default ‘Don’t be vaccinated,’ then a lot of people simply won’t.” Simply reinstituting the same pre-vaccine mask guidelines will not be as effective as a vaccine mandate, according to Carroll, because most people who are inclined to follow masking protocols are already vaccinated.

Can anything be done to convince the unvaccinated to get a COVID shot?

The last year and a half have proven that bombarding the public with never-ending coronavirus statistics is not overly effective at convincing the vaccine-hesitant. As an alternative, educational campaigns featuring testimonies from local nurses and doctors who talk about the dangers of refusing to get vaccinated may be a better option.

While direct attempts from a doctor to convince their patients to get a COVID vaccine have been less than effective, these kinds of educational campaigns may see more success.

“The most powerful messengers are clinicians caring for very sick people who are honestly telling you that if they had had a vaccine, they wouldn’t be lying with an intubator on,” Robert Blendon of Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health recently explained during a forum about COVID-19 vaccine mandates. “It really has to be somebody who’s dealing with this every day and gets on Oklahoma TV, etc., and says, ‘Look, I am caring for people who are at risk of dying here, who thought it just wasn’t worth getting the vaccine.’ It’s an Oklahoma critical care physician…there are no politics involved; nobody in government telling you what to do, of either party.”

If you are directly dealing with a loved one who still refuses to get vaccinated, the best course of action is to employ a tactic called “motivational interviewing, according to Ken Resnicow, a professor of Health Behavior and Health Education at the University of Michigan School of Public Health.

“Let them express their anger, their mistrust, their doubts, and then reflect it back with ‘you statements,'” Resnicow said. “‘You’re worried that the government is trying to force this on people. You don’t trust the public health system. You’re not convinced that the disease is as scary as people say.’ Those ‘you statements’ without judgment, without trying to persuade, send a meta-message that I’m trying to understand you, I’m not gonna judge you, and I’m not gonna push you.”

Sources: Axios [1, 2], AP, New York Times [1, 2, 3], Washington Post, Vox, Cornell Law School, U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, CNBC, NBC News, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Yahoo


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