Editorial: Are you smarter than an anti-vaxxer?

·4 min read

OBVIOUSLY, that is no way to start a conversation with someone who isn’t yet convinced he or she ought to get vaccinated against the virus that causes Covid-19. Approach the conversation that way and you may as well say goodbye to any hopes you had of persuading someone to get vaccinated.

So how do we persuade someone, presumably someone we care about, to get vaccinated if they still have their doubts? Begin by opening yourself to the possibility that they may be in your immediate family, clan or circle of friends. They’re out there. Some may be concealing their doubts to protect themselves against your contempt.

There’s a (thin) silver lining in the fact that vaccines aren’t arriving in this country faster. At least we have some time to persuade those in our circles who still harbor some doubts about getting jabbed. As of last Tuesday, April 20, the Department of Health reported it had distributed all of its 3.02 million doses of AstraZeneca and CoronaVac vaccines. Vaccination sites in Central Visayas received 178,560 doses. As of April 21, about 1.3 percent of the national population has received at least one of two needed doses. Less than a percent (about 0.2) has been fully vaccinated.

For most of us, the wait will take a few months more.

What puzzles me is how adults who would have no problem getting access to a vaccine still don’t want to receive it. Up to 37 percent of Americans, at least as of April 11, wouldn’t accept a vaccine even if it’s already available to them. The same Axios poll, based on the responses of 34,605 U.S. adults, showed that those who said, “I’ll get it right away” fell from 43 percent last March 7 to only 17 percent as of April 11. The highest point was 50 percent, reached last Jan. 10.

So, given that the U.S. now has more than enough vaccines than people willing to receive them, why not send supplies (donate it, sell it, just move it) to developing countries where only a fraction of the population has received the protection we all need? A new report by Vanity Fair’s Katherine Eban points out that even if the U.S. Government wanted to, they couldn’t do that. Agreements reached with four pharmaceutical companies during the Trump administration prohibited the use of supplies delivered to the U.S. outside of U.S. soil.

For nearly all of us, the way vaccine supplies get allocated to a world in dire need of them remains outside our control. Reality bites, kids. So, as one way of focusing on what we can control, part of our challenge now is to try to understand why some of the people we care about don’t want to get vaccinated at all.

We could point out that all adults who qualify to receive the vaccine have a moral obligation to do so. And we would probably be correct. But that approach might not work. Requiring people to get vaccinated wouldn’t work either, especially if you’re the kind of person to whom a rights-based approach matters.

Since there are no white Republicans in my immediate circle, I’m guessing that much of the vaccine hesitancy would come from: (1) individuals with deep-seated fears about the harm that side effects might cause them and their loved ones; and (2) evangelical Christians who have been feeding themselves a steady diet of misinformation and conspiracy theories hatched by their like-minded peers in the U.S.

Ayayay. Clearly, there are some challenging conversations ahead. If any other subject were involved, my approach would be to mind my own business and let people be: for as long as your individual decisions do not harm those I love, hey, you do you. Live long and prosper.

But the campaign to get people vaccinated against Covid-19 is a different matter. The longer you wait to get vaccinated, the more time you give this virus to shape-shift and harm, possibly even kill, others. It’s doing its best to survive. So why aren’t you?