How to persuade someone to take the COVID-19 vaccine
The vaccines are coming. How many Americans will they actually get?
It's a looming question, perhaps the most important, as coronavirus continues to rise in the US. Medical experts say that herd immunity caused by vaccines - when enough people are immune that the virus is difficult to spread - is the best way to end the pandemic problem.
Overall, 60% of Americans say they would definitely or likely receive the vaccine if one were available today, according to a poll by the Pew Research Center this month, up from 51% who said so in September. Almost 40% said they would definitely or probably not receive a coronavirus vaccine, although about half of that group - about 18% of adults in the US - say they could change their minds.
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What will it take
USA TODAY spoke to Jay Van Bavel, professor of psychology and neuroscience at New York University and director of the Laboratory of Social Identity and Morality, and Gretchen Chapman, professor of psychology at Carnegie Mellon University, who studies judgment and health decisions advice on what Americans are can do in everyday life to encourage their families, friends, and community members to receive the vaccine.
More: USA TODAY panel says the US has gotten to the heart of the science behind COVID-19 vaccines, but logistics and trust remain a cause for concern
Don't judge people; Meet them where they are
More than 325,000 people have died since the pandemic began. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the country's chief infectious disease official, said if most people were vaccinated, we could really change that by the end of 2021.
Many people who want to get vaccinated get confused by those who hesitate. But Van Bavel said there are understandable reasons someone would be unsure about a brand new vaccine.
"Ordinary people are not trained in science," he said. "They are not trained to think analytically about these kinds of complex scientific questions. And if they don't trust major news sources or scientific authorities and don't know how to verify information, then it's understandable from that perspective that they could be misled. "
In today's culture of indignation, he said, people often use shame to find out what they perceive to be irresponsible behavior, but shame is nowhere near as effective at changing behavior as some may think.
The authors of a paper developed by the Center for Public Interest Communications and the United Nations 'Verified' Initiative to Build Confidence in the COVID-19 Vaccine wrote, "Shame will likely get the opposite response we hope for. Look at more constructive emotions like love, hope, and a desire to protect to get people to act. "
Colleen Teevan, Systems Pharmaceutical Clinical Manager at Hartford HealthCare, will deliver Pfizer BioNTech's vaccine for COVID-19 to Connor Paleski health care worker outside Hartford Hospital in Hartford, Connecticut on December 14, 2020.
Don't dismiss people's worries
Sane skeptics will not trust the vaccine just because someone says they should. For example, if someone is skeptical of Big Pharma, don't ignore it.
"There are many reasons why you should ... be skeptical of the financial interests of large pharmaceutical companies," said Van Bavel.
If an African American is hesitant about getting the vaccine, don't make fun of it. Black people have been repeatedly ill-treated by the medical community. The rejection of their concerns about a COVID-19 vaccine shows a lack of empathy and a misunderstanding of history.
Don't treat people's worries as stupid. Listen to them, validate them, and find out how to approach them.
"The first is to understand the basics of these concerns and not try to deny them, but rather deal with them," said Van Bavel.
Tuskegee Study Remains: Black Americans are the most reluctant to get a COVID-19 vaccine
Sandra Lindsay, left, a nurse at Long Island Jewish Medical Center, will be met in New York on Monday, December 14, 2020, by Dr. Michelle Chester vaccinated with the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine.
Know that a person's politics is not everything
The pandemic has been politically charged from the start, but don't assume that only political identity is a factor in decision-making.
"Identity is intersectional and involves many things," Chapman said, including race, gender and religion. "There's a pretty interesting dynamic going on here."
For example, Democrats are more enthusiastic about the vaccine than Republicans. But black Americans who oppose Democrats are skeptical about vaccines because they have been misused by the medical system in the past. For some, racial identity may be stronger than political identity.
"In a perfect world with unlimited resources," wrote the authors of the United Nations paper, "we would have the ability to create highly specific campaigns for every community and identity."
Americans Remain Divided Over COVID: What Does It Take to Bring Them Together?
Government Suspicion: Black Americans are the most reluctant to get a COVID-19 vaccine
Ask questions to see if you are speaking to someone who is hesitant about Vax or vaccine
Do your best to assess your audience before starting your argument. Is this person vaccine hesitant or a hardcore anti-vaxxer?
You are unlikely to change the mind of a militant anti-Vaxxer, but experts say they are rare. Those who are skeptical of vaccines are far more likely.
Be curious to find out who someone is on COVID-19 vaccines. Ask questions like, "Why do you think that?" or "Where do you hear that?" or "Why do you trust this?"
Sal Lando, left, holds up signs during a protest against compulsory flu vaccinations outside Massachusetts State House in Boston last summer. Spurred on by the pandemic, vaccine opponents have worked to reinvent their image in terms of calls for civil liberties and medical freedom. Such an attitude, health officials fear, could result in a large percentage of Americans opting out of promising COVID-19 vaccines.
Asking such questions will help you understand whether people are persuasive and what can convince them. For example, if someone thinks COVID-19 is no more dangerous than the flu, you know what belief to correct.
When they received their information from certain sources with an agenda, they were indoctrinated as skeptical of experts. Therefore, it may not matter to them that the nation's leading infectious disease expert say the vaccine is safe.
Facts alone do not affect Anti-Vaxxers. So what do
The backstory: why do people deny the seriousness of COVID-19?
Know your facts, but know that facts are not everything
A 2010 study found that trying to correct a person's perception can have a “backfire effect”. When you come across facts that do not support your belief, it actually becomes stronger.
It is often an uphill battle to convince someone that a deeply rooted view is flawed. People are hardwired to bias. If you're a young mom who believes vaccines cause autism, search for research showing if they actually cause autism or search Google for "vaccines cause autism" to find stories to back up your beliefs ? Probably the latter, driven by "motivated thinking," our psychological tendency to uphold our own beliefs and reject anything that goes against our own views.
However, if you and the person you are trying to convince share the same identity or social circle, they may be more inclined to hear what you have to say.
Be clear, transparent, and honest
If you are communicating with someone who is hesitant about the COVID-19 vaccine, tell them that Pfizer / BioNTech and Moderna vaccines are 95% effective.
Don't downplay the side effects. There are some, but they are not severe and short-lived. Thousands of people have received the vaccines and none have reported any serious, long-term health concerns. People seem to feel worst after the second dose and may take a day to recover. If you have extreme allergies, the first thing to do is to speak to your doctor.
If anyone is concerned that the vaccines were developed too quickly to be safe - they were released to the public about 11 months after the coronavirus emerged - you can acknowledge that it is normal to be afraid of things were rushed but declare that the science was not compromised. Public health experts involved in the effort and those who weren't agree.
"Another thing to say is, 'It went very quickly, but it's a really amazing thing for science,'" said Van Bavel. "Some people say this should be a model. We now know that we can do this with this accuracy at this time. This will now be a model for future vaccines."
Model the behavior you want to see
Experts say what you do is more powerful than what you say. Telling people you want to get the vaccine and posting a photo on social media is far more effective than anything else you share.
"We tend to look around for clues about what others are doing to tell us what is appropriate in a situation," said Chapman. "And until (recently) none of us knew anyone who had received the COVID vaccine. ... Over the next month we will have more and more of these clues. We will begin to know people who have been vaccinated been. "
Research shows that immediate connections on our social networks are most important for behavior change, also because they set norms about what everyone else is doing.
When we get vaccinated, Chapman said, "Other people who are like us will look at this and say, 'Oh, well, I'm a bit like Gretchen. I think that's what I should be doing.'"
Always correct any misinformation
If you see people passionate about the COVID-19 vaccine posting conspiracy theories on social media, you likely won't change their minds. But even if you can't convince them, you can expose misinformation.
You can post a link to a fact-checking or other credible source such as the CDC or the World Health Organization. Even if you can't convince the person posting, you can convince some of the friends and family who are watching.
You can also reach out to mutual friends to let them know that a particular claim is wrong.
Make the vaccine appear as uncontroversial as it should be
Chapman said the vaccine should be used as the standard for care, not as a basis for discussion.
She was referring to a 2017 experiment by Noel Brewer in which doctors announced it was time for an HPV vaccine for a child, instead of talking to parents about whether they wanted their child to be vaccinated. The announcement technique resulted in more parents vaccinating their children.
The same should apply to the COVID-19 vaccine, according to Chapman. "Don't make it seem like this is optional," she said.
An unintended consequence of the many public opinion polls on COVID vaccines is that they could lead some people to believe the vaccine is controversial, Chapman said.
"When pollsters ask people, 'Are you going to get the COVID vaccine?' That question implies, "Oh, maybe some people don't want to get the vaccine. Little did I know this was something that there was some controversy about, "Chapman said.
"Let's make the COVID vaccine the standard of best practice for care," she said. "Of course we will get the vaccine. Everyone will, because that's how we will stop. We have all been waiting for this."
This article originally appeared in the US TODAY: COVID Vaccine: How To Convince People To Get Vaccinated; Tips
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