Team Biden Needs to Find a Way to Get Through to Vaccine Holdouts

content-header__row content-header__hed” data-testid=”ContentHeaderHed”>Team Biden Needs to Find a Way to Get Through to Vaccine HoldoutsWith demand down, the Biden administration is reportedly analyzing Americans who have changed their minds about vaccines—as some states promote incentives like free beer and money. 

May 4, 2021

A man receives a COVID shot at a mass vaccination site in New Jersey in April.Mark Kauzlarich/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The coronavirus situation in the United States has dramatically improved over the course of the spring, with vaccinations rolling out and hints of normal life returning. But more recently, that progress has started to sputter: A sizable chunk of the population has yet to get a single dose, and the pace of vaccinations is leveling off, even as access to the shots has expanded. That’s not to say there aren’t still barriers to getting the vaccine—there are. But as supply outstrips demand in America, even as parts of the world face their most dire bouts yet with the virus, the biggest challenge here is no longer getting shots to people, but getting people to take them. 

Millions of Americans, particularly political conservatives, are either reluctant to get the vaccine or say they will outright refuse to do so—dimming hopes that the U.S. will reach herd immunity and essentially eradicate COVID here. And while it may be impossible to reach those who absolutely do not want the shot, U.S. officials are mounting a major push to get those who are merely apprehensive over their fears and hesitancy. Joe Biden’s administration and public health experts are analyzing Americans who have changed their minds on the vaccines, seeking lessons in focus group sessions led by GOP pollster Frank Luntz and others about how to win over remaining hold-outs. Those focus groups and surveys are also informing an advertising campaign Republican lawmakers in the GOP Doctors Caucus are launching in an effort to get through to the 40% of GOP voters who said in a recent poll that they would not be getting vaccinated. Meanwhile, local leaders and businesses have been offering residents additional incentives, from free beer to free money, as vaccines should become increasingly available at workplaces and churches. 

“The ads on TV, reading up on the CDC site, talking to your buddy who’s a nurse—I think it’s going to be a combination of all these things that are going to help,” Alice Chen, a senior adviser for the vaccine equity advocacy organization Made to Save, told the Washington Post. “Particularly for the people who are the most hesitant.” 

Part of the challenge to getting the country vaccinated has been piercing through the political bubbles Americans have been ensconced in throughout the pandemic. But there are a great many reasons why some are wary of the shots, including fear of the rapid timeline on which they were developed and a sense, particularly among the young and healthy, that COVID doesn’t present enough of a risk to them personally to warrant getting jabbed. As such, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to swaying the vaccine hold-outs. But one key takeaway from the focus groups seems to be that the case for getting vaxxed is most compelling when it comes from someone close and trusted, as was the case with one woman who was convinced to get the Pfizer vaccine after seeing Paul Offit, a pediatrician at the Philadelphia hospital that cared for her child, promote the vaccines on television. “His face was familiar to me,” the woman told the Post. “I had seen him in the research I had done before we went to [Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia]. And I felt like I really trusted him.”

Building that trust—and quick—is likely the key to getting out of the vaccination lull the country seems to be entering. Officials, though, are becoming convinced that it won’t be enough to outpace the variants and reach the threshold for herd immunity in the U.S. “It is theoretically possible that we could get to about 90 percent vaccination coverage,” the epidemiologist Marc Lipsitch told the New York Times on Monday, “but not super likely, I would say.” That’s not good news, but it’s also not cause for despair; we’re likely to have to live with the virus, at least for the near future, but continuing to vaccinate as many people as possible could mitigate the presence of the virus enough to safely return to normalcy. “The virus is unlikely to go away,” Rustom Antia, an evolutionary biologist at Emory University, told the Times. “But we want to do all we can to check that it’s likely to become a mild infection.”

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