I had hoped I wouldn’t need to write another column about COVID-19, but that was before the delta variant. Now, we are in the early stage of another surge, one that appears likely to be at least as deadly as previous surges and already more deadly for younger folks and even children.
Why? Because the delta variant is much more easily spread than earlier forms of the virus; children who are too young to receive the vaccine appear to be more susceptible to severe disease due to the delta variant; and schools around the country are starting again, in the midst of a bewildering array of guidelines, state laws, local standards and individual family opinions about the need to wear masks in schools.
To make matters even worse, there continues to be a large group who, though they are eligible, have not gotten the vaccine. Some recent research indicates about a quarter of those who haven’t received the vaccine yet still don’t plan to get it.
So, why worry? We seniors have the highest full vaccination rate. We can rest on our laurels. No! These are our friends, neighbors, children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren we’re talking about. What can we do? There are all sorts of campaigns going on to get everyone who is eligible to get a shot. You’ve probably seen more than a handful of public service announcements encouraging vaccination. Go to thisisourshot.info or madetosave.org to find many specific suggestions and helpful information.
Here is my take on what works best. It’s not rocket science. These suggestions help whenever we need to convince someone to do something.
First and most importantly, listen carefully, very carefully. People give lots of reasons for being reluctant or even unwilling to get the vaccine. Some consider their refusal part of their political identity. Some may have longstanding distrust of government or the health care system that has, at least in the past, failed them or their family members.
Stacey Wood, a professor of marketing and a researcher in COVID vaccine promotion at North Carolina State, has said: “You can’t start persuading someone unless you know what reason is the real hurdle.”
In his sermon this past Sunday, our minister talked about where we are in the coronavirus epidemic. He said we’re pretty much all grieving all sorts of losses due to COVID-19 and we’re angry that we’re still in the middle of yet another surge and we’re at least a little in shock that we haven’t been able to get our acts together. All the more reason to take a deep breath and slow down enough to hear what those we know and love are saying and ask open-ended questions so that we can be sure we ”get” what it was.
Second, tailor your message. Behavioral scientists divide the vaccine hesitant into three groups, with some overlap. Some are just apathetic or disinterested. They view the shots as unnecessary for them or just an inconvenience. Some are skeptical of the medical science behind the shots or concerned about their safety. The third group includes those who refuse the shots for political or ideological reasons.
For the apathetic, incentives tend to work well. Find out how you can make getting the shot easier for your friend or neighbor or relative. Keep the kids for a couple of hours, watch pets, etc. For the skeptical, help them find the answers they need, using the websites listed above, CDC.gov/covid-19 or https://www.jhsph.edu/covid-19/articles.
Those with political or ideological reasons for vaccine refusal are often difficult to move forward. To do so means giving up at least a part of their identity. Helping them find someone whom they respect who has received the vaccine may help them “take the plunge.”
Third, focus on your relationship. Data doesn’t always sell. The fact that you are interested in them and/or their loved ones’ health does. Wood says: “Keep saying over and over again how much the person means to you.”
Who can you help move toward getting vaccinated? It is potentially a matter of life or death, risk of a severe illness or even a mild one, but with possible long-term consequences, such as long COVID.
I can’t finish this column without saying (again!!) that even with the vaccine, masks are still very important for COVID-19 prevention, and you can’t just wear any mask. For reduction of respiratory droplet spread, gaiters and bandanas are useless, cotton or knitted masks are not very good, a multi-layer fabric mask with a disposable filter is better, polypropylene or surgical masks are much better and N95 masks are best.
Stay safe and please do what you can to protect yourself and others!