The rapid development of the vaccines to prevent covid-19 has to be considered a massive scientific success because creating such things usually take a long time. You would think that that was the biggest hurdle in combating the pandemic and that after that was achieved, the rest would be smooth sailing, with everyone getting vaccinated and the spread of the disease brought under control. And yet getting enough people get the vaccine to achieve herd immunity is turning out to be the hardest part, a situation that I would not have thought possible when the outbreak was causing panic back in the first half of 2020.
And yet that is where we are.
We know that Republicans, and Trump supporters particularly, are more likely to be. vaccine hesitant. The program This American Life had a segment in which Republican pollster and messaging guru Frank Luntz convened a focus group of people who had voted for Trump and had expressed hesitation or opposition to getting the vaccine, to see kind of appeal might get them to change their minds. He began by asking the participants why they were not going to take the vaccine and the responses were the usual mix of downplaying the seriousness of the disease and misinformation such as the vaccine could not be trusted because it had been rushed, that it only affected a small segment of people who were old or had other health issues, that Democrats and the media and the drug companies had exaggerated the severity of the disease and delayed releasing the results in order to defeat Trump, and so on. There was even a woman whose husband had been in intensive care for three weeks and almost died of the disease but still will not get the vaccine because she feels that our bodies can naturally fight off infections.
What Luntz found was that their views were very hard to shift. In particular, appeals by celebrities and politicians, even prominent Republican senators and congresspeople who were all supporters of Trump, seemed to have no effect at all. What shifted them at least a little were facts and emotions delivered towards the end of the session.
The facts were delivered by Dr. Thomas Friedan, former head of the CDC, who briskly made five points.
One, if you get infected with the virus, it will go all over your body and stay there for at least a week and be much more likely to cause you long-term problems than the vaccine. Two, if you get the vaccine, it will prime your immune system, but then the vaccine is gone. It will not be with you anymore. Three, more than 95% of the doctors who have been offered this vaccine have gotten it as soon as they can. Four, the more we vaccinate, the faster we can get back to growing our economy and getting jobs. And five, if people get vaccinated, we’re going to save at least 100,000 lives ofAmericans who would be otherwise killed by COVID.
The emotion was delivered by Chris Christie who did not ask them to get vaccinated but simply recounted his own experience of how he had been at a meeting of seven people in the White House, including Trump and young, fit, and healthy people, all of whom had repeatedly tested negative. Six of them, including him, came down with the disease. He also spoke about his 64-year old cousin and her husband who both got it, were hospitalized, and had died just two weeks earlier. His story seemed to have an effect.
Research indicates that the most effective person to persuade people to take the vaccine is, unsurprisingly, their personal physician. There is apparently an ad campaign in the works that will feature doctors talking to their own patients that will be sent out to them via their phone or computers. Let’s hope that works.
I had not known that Luntz had volunteered to the radio show to do this focus group because he had had a stroke last year that affected his left arm and his speech and made him much more aware of the need to heed medical advice.
The experience made him really angry with all the people who weren’t getting vaccinated. He says the stroke was this thing he could probably could have prevented if he’d done what the doctor said. But he didn’t take care of himself, didn’t take his medication. And now, seeing people do some version of that, not protecting themselves by getting the vaccine, endangering themselves and others, it was driving him crazy. Like, you people are healthy. You don’t realize what you have.
On his show last Sunday, John Oliver also discussed vaccine hesitancy and what might be done about it. He blasted people like Tucker Carlson and Alex Jones who are spreading doubt and confusion. He says that people like Carlson who disingenuously claim to be ‘just asking questions’ about the vaccines and other covid-19 preventive measures when they damn well know that the answers are available, are using the old strategy of creating doubt, because when people are not sure about something, they tend to not take any action. This is the strategy of climate change deniers and tobacco companies and anti-vaxxers.
Luntz’s participation in this focus group, in which Republican minority leader Kevin McCarthy also participated, seemed to have aroused the ire of Carlson and he has attacked both, despite them having impeccable Republican credentials, perhaps because Luntz’s polling has produced results unfavorable to Trump.
Luntz, one of the most influential pollsters in the country, has been critical of both Democrats and Republicans over the years.
He recently suggested based on polling he has conducted among U.S. voters that former President Trump is viewed as “a genuine villain” and predicted “there isn’t even a shred of hope for him if he should ever try to reenter politics.”
Saying anything that is less than glorious praise of their Dear Leader rouses these people into a frothing fury.