Hectoring does not work

Anita Sreedhar and Anand Gopal wrote an important article in the New York Times on the decades long shredding of trust in government among the lower classes in the United States. They started by talking about Robert Steed who lived in the South Bronx area of New York City. He lived in a public housing project where he had grown up, among poor people. During the pandemic the residential complex in which he lived was hit hard—very hard—by Covid.  Many of the people from that complex contracted Covid-19 and many suffered and died. There were posters plastered all over the complex urging the residents to get vaccinated.  You would think the sight of friends and neighbours being wheeled out in ambulances would have convinced all of the resident like Steed to get vaccinated. If you thought that you would be wrong. Steed would not touch the vaccines that could save is life or reduce the harm caused by the disease.


This is what he told his friends, after he contracted Covid: “I’m not going to do what the government says.” This was a simple but profound statement. He decided he would fight the government alone rather than with “help” from the government he did not trust. After all he was only 41 years old and healthy, had no underlying health conditions, and he could do his own research on the internet. He died a couple of days later in his apartment.


At his funeral all his friends said the same thing: they would not get vaccinated even though they had seen how quick their friend Steed died. They were shook up by his death but would not get vaccinated.


In the United States about 70% of Americans are now fully immunized compared to Canada, where about 80% have that status. In both countries there are stubborn pockets of vaccine resistance. No matter how often government officials tell them to get vaccinated or try to twist their arms to do that, they resist.

As Sreedhar and Gopal reported,


“In 2019, the World Health Organization declared vaccine hesitancy one of the 10 threats to global health. With persistent vaccine avoidance and unequal access to vaccines, unvaccinated pockets could act as reservoirs for the virus, allowing for the spread of new variants like Omicron.”


Please note this was before the onslaught of Covid.

 There is no one size fits all reason for vaccine hesitancy. There is a basket of reasons.  What we have been doing so far, is very unlikely to sway the opinions of these last remaining vaccine resisters. They have doubled down in their resistance with every effort to persuade them. By now those positions are so entrenched they are like religious convictions. As Anita Sreedhar and Anand Gopal said,

 The world needs to address the root causes of vaccine hesitancy. We can’t go on believing that the issue can be solved simply by flooding skeptical communities with public service announcements or hectoring people to “believe in science.”

No hectoring does not work. We need a better approach, but how do we find one?  I am not sure how we do, but I think it might help if we understand where these resisters, or at least many of them, are coming from.

Sreedhar Anand Gopal discovered some very interesting things about why people resisted. I will continue commenting on this article in my next post.


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