Domestic Affairs

Empathy for the Unvaccinated

As the U.S. enters its 19th month of the pandemic, it is becoming increasingly important that more individuals get vaccinated in order to enter the ballpark of herd immunity, which experts estimate to be 70-90% of the population. The importance of haste comes from the fact that, as we approach winter, infection and mortality rates are, once again, rising, with over 1,000 people dying a day in the U.S. Additionally, due to the nature of the virus, the more it survives and proliferates, the higher the chance of it developing new and stronger variants. The more people that get vaccinated, the better. However, we need to start critically thinking about how we, as individuals, interact with vaccine hesitant people on this subject. 

It is important that we focus on getting people vaccinated. As a reminder of talking to the vaccine hesitant, we need to reconsider expressing feelings of blame or resentment and instead opt for open discussion and understanding. As of now, over half of the American population is vaccinated, which is admirable, but not enough for herd immunity – this would require approximately 45 million more U.S. citizens to get vaccinated to enter the estimated ballpark. The rate of doses administered has slowed down to approximately 650,000 a day, at which rate it would take over two months to reach herd immunity, giving more time for the virus to mutate. Furthermore, as winter approaches, the spectre of more deaths and infections grows. Last winter saw the worst infection and mortality spike of the entire pandemic. 

So on whom does the responsibility to get vaccinated fall? Everyone. It is the job of the unvaccinated to get vaccinated and the job of the members of society to cultivate an open, considerate, and understanding environment to address the worries of the vaccine hesitant and to make them feel safer, understood, and considered. This is why we cannot close off or dismiss those many members of our society who are hesitant to get the vaccine. We need each other to survive and progress and the more we close each other off, the harder this becomes. 

The more we open up our minds and create a less judgemental, open-minded atmosphere, the more willing the unvaccinated will be to get the shots. Having an understanding attitude allows for an open, productive discussion with the unvaccinated, allowing consideration of reasonable suspicions and offering them solutions. So why are people not getting the vaccine? According to a large scale national survey by the Delphi Group at Carnegie Mellon University, 49% of unvaccinated Americans say they are afraid of side effects, with 52% of individuals responding “probably not” going to receive the vaccine saying they wanted to wait to see if it was safe, and over half of the “definitely not” group responding in fear and mistrust of the COVID-19 vaccine and the government. It’s time to get into the root of the fear itself, bring to light studies and articles which address various misinformation, and talk to our fellow countrymen with good intentions. Lack of open discussion and mutual understanding leads to fear and reaction, as seen with Facebook anti-vax organizers like Marcus Nel-Jamal Hamm. Jennifer Reich, a sociologist from the University of Colorado Denver, considers vaccine skepticism as a reaction for people who want to be more responsible for their health and Matt Motta, a political science professor at Oklahoma State University, tells us that society “needs to have lots of different strategies aimed at reaching lots of different people. And if you can move a couple of percentage points here and a couple of percentage points there, ultimately you put something together that gets us the herd immunity.” We need to revolve these interactions around real individual stories, trust, understanding, consideration, and keeping our biases in mind. It’s about discussing the doubts and mistrust, keeping it light, responding to people’s concerns, avoiding blame, being patient, and focusing on the humanity of the situation. People are nervous about something, so is it really productive to snub them and treat them differently? 

Lastly, what else could the alternative be? If American society continues to create an atmosphere of hostility, this will continue to make the hesitant jaded and less willing to get the shots. Hostility and judgment, as exhibited extensively throughout social media, notably various forums on Reddit like “CovIdiots,” make the hesitant more likely to give in to a potential fear or doubt. This sort of online judgment takes us away from understanding the reality of the majority of individuals who are hesitant. Jessica Saleska at UCLA reminds us that “it is important to consider whether it is better to be proactive or reactive when it comes to combating vaccine hesitancy in this circumstance” and that certain psychological biases are constantly at work when receiving new information on touchy subjects. So it is essential to ask the question, ‘Is this productive?’ before posting on social media more resentment fuel for the indecisive. 

In the age of social media, it is important that we remain empathetic and humanize the profile pictures and usernames that distance us from the reality of the lives of others, which we often assume and judge far too quickly. We must consider how productive our interactions are and think in the long term. Judgment will only hurt progress and stifle decision making for the vaccine hesitant. The objective is to be patient, understanding, and considerate as we open up for discussion the contentious subjects of our time. We must work for the unity of individuals in important societal decision making. In the future, it will be asked, what did you do during the pandemic? So, why not ask ourselves this question now and apply it in our actions. What will you do to help end the pandemic?

Categories: Domestic Affairs

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