“Impending Doom” or Expanding Our Vaccinated Herd?

Sure, we’re all ready to resume our normal lives. And as the CDC’s Dr. Rochelle Walensky says, we’re so close: just hold on a little longer.

But in this brief video, she stresses how worried she is that we’ll lose our hard-earned progress by resuming our pre-COVID lives too soon.

Dr. Walensky’s warning coincided with an experience I had this week that convinced me I need to know how to talk to people who resist being vaccinated. The stakes are too high for all of us to allow the huge advances that we’ve made to be overtaken by renewed spikes, which have already begun in some states.

So I’m trying to learn how to approach the reluctant souls (perhaps they include you?)—and to pass that information on to you.

I was scheduled for an 8:45 am appointment at a well-known laboratory to have blood work done prior to my yearly physical. I arrived to find the door was locked. Pounding on it brought no response. No explanatory sign was in sight.

Turned out the lab was closed, and—I learned from someone who worked in the building—nobody’d been there for a week. Though the lab had my email address and phone number, I’d received no call.

Fortunately, I was able to have my blood drawn a few hours later at a branch of this lab in the next town. I asked the phlebotomist for the headquarters phone number so I could express my displeasure that no one had notified me of my cancelled appointment.

“Call the 800 number,” she said. “I guess staff got COVID again. That’s what happened there last time.”

I found that information somewhat alarming. “They don’t offer to vaccinate you?,” I asked.

“Oh, they do,” she said. “But I won’t take it.”

As she’s a Black woman, and there’s been legitimate reluctance based on our dreadful history, I didn’t pursue the matter. “I understand,” I said. And I left.

But I found the exchange deeply troubling. I wondered how much counseling this huge organization was undertaking to encourage its staff to take the vaccine.

Super-spreading phlebotomists aren’t going to help us reach herd immunity. Perhaps there was something I might have said that would have made a difference.

I came across an article in STAT titled, “A User’s Guide: How to talk to those hesitant about the COVID-19 vaccine.” And it occurred to me that as more vaccine becomes available, and more of us become vaccinated, we can become ambassadors to those who are reluctant—if we know some basic approaches.

The rest of this post comes from information in the STAT article, which provided some good insights and resources. Its focus is on Black and Hispanic Americans, who–though disproportionately affected by the disease–also have high rates of wariness. Thus, many are taking a “wait and see” attitude, according to several surveys.

But much of the advice in the article may be applicable to just about anyone who isn’t dead set against being vaccinated.

Anthropologist Heidi Larson, a global vaccine expert based in London who directs The Vaccine Confidence Project, calls the target group “the movable middle.” She compares them to swing voters:

“Any political strategist will tell you that getting as much of the swing vote as you can is what’s important. It can also make people more resilient to the predatory behavior of antivax groups.”

(Kaiser Family Foundation surveys find the “movable middle” accounts for 17% of those polled. The largest group of respondents, 62%, said they’ve either been vaccinated or plan to be; 15% said absolutely not, and 7% said only if they must. I updated the figures from those that appear in the STAT article.)

In my situation with the phlebotomist, I learned that I wouldn’t have been a good emissary. The most likely to have influence are friends or family members, doctors, or clergy.

But I might have referred the woman to “The Conversation: Between Us, About Us,” a campaign co-developed by Reed Tuckson, Washington, DC’s former public health commissioner, to provide Black families with accurate vaccine information.

If the woman had been Hispanic, there’s a YouTube video (in Spanish) created by Jorge Moreno, an assistant professor at the Yale University School of Medicine and practicing internist, who describes the vaccine and his personal experience being vaccinated.

In addition, the CDC created a PDF about “las vacunas,” and the FDA provides information in 20 languages. The Hispanic community has been particularly targeted with misinformation through social media, including nonsense about implanted microchips, satanic rituals, and fertility damage.

Hispanics’ questions that must be addressed also center on whether undocumented immigrants can be inoculated (the answer is yes) and whether insurance is needed (it is not).

In response to concerns about safety, it’s important to point out that none of the vaccines contain live viruses, so it’s impossible to get COVID from them. Also, the Pfizer and Moderna trials both had Black and Hispanic participants, and the vaccines were shown to be safe to all ethnicities, stressed Moreno. Tens of thousands of people were tested before the emergency go-ahead was provided.

Some other key points the STAT author cites:

—Don’t lecture; listen to hear the person’s doubts.

—Don’t look down on the person or blame her/him for hesitating. Be compassionate instead, realizing these are new vaccines–and we’ve all gone through an anxiety-provoking, hellish year.

—Don’t get into the weeds of the science; based on your knowledge of the person, perhaps try altruism: that you’re “helping protect your family and community by getting us closer to herd immunity.”

—If concerns are based on religious opposition to the stem cells (in the J&J vaccine), it may be worth mentioning that the Vatican has termed the vaccines “morally acceptable,” and the Pope, who received the Pfizer vaccine, told Catholics it’s their moral obligation to be vaccinated.

Use humor if you can. A group of California doctors created a YouTube video of remixes from the “Hamilton” song “I’m Not Throwing Away My Shot.” I found this video really great and strongly recommend that you take the few minutes to watch it.

–Use your personal experience. Larson spoke about Ethan Lindenberger, an Ohio teen whose story went viral when he asked on Reddit where he could get vaccinated because he’d just become 18 and no longer had to be constrained by his anti-vaxxer parents.

—Appreciate that this effort may take several tries and requires patience.

—Be available to help—signing people up for appointments, driving them to vaccination centers, etc.

—Help people envision a better future. The STAT article concludes:

“Herd immunity offers a path back to normalcy. Larson suggests asking: ‘Do you really want to stay in this mess forever?” Adds Tuckson: ‘I ask people, ‘Would you like to have Christmas and Thanksgiving in person? Do you want your daughter to graduate in person, or your son to be able to have a wedding? Would you like your life back?’”

If you, yourself, have been hesitant to receive the vaccine, has any of the above information persuaded you? If you’re among the majority who either have been or plan to be vaccinated, can you see yourself trying to win over some reluctant “movable middle” folks?

Do you see this as something that’s your responsibility? One way or another, Dr. Walensky’s concerns of a doom scenario must be taken seriously. Only then can we build toward that safer expanded vaccinated herd.


32 thoughts on ““Impending Doom” or Expanding Our Vaccinated Herd?

  1. I appreciate the careful compendium of resources you put together here . . . The video clips of physicians we have come to know will probably be my go-to. I have really come to love these people who, most evenings, are in my living room calmly, sincerely laying out the facts. Would that I had their talent for communication. The problem isn’t one of finding the humanity in the circumstance where a person refuses to vaccinate. I have plenty of empathy, but also frustration. I fear that I lecture, even when hands fly up to cover ears! I fear I am capable of hammering a point as if a tent stake. On a windy day. So I’ll be using the videos of our trusted experts. Let them speak. / Got my second shot a couple of days ago. Grateful.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. In fact, Denise, the STAT author assembled the resources;,I just had the sense to find and cite her good work.

      I think it’s really good that you’re honest with yourself about how best to approach the issue. And great to hear you’re in the final weeks of gaining protection!


  2. I live within a mile of the top-rated hospital in my state where coronavirus infections have once again started to spike. Like you Annie, I was shocked when the vaccine was first made available to medical workers and less than 25% of the staff in the hospital was willing to get the vaccine. I don’t know where that figure stands today. I’m sure that as time passes, more and more people will become comfortable with receiving a vaccination.

    You’ve compiled an excellent list of resources to help ease minds. This is definitely an important initiative that we can not afford to mess up. Thanks.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I didn’t expect to be shocked, Carol, because I’d been reading and seeing televised reports of hesitancy among healthcare workers. But being confronted by that reality was, indeed, shocking. According to the Washington Post article below, only slightly more than half (52%) of frontline workers have been vaccinated to date. Yes, that number will grow, but we’re in a race against time due to the variants and the adamant nay-sayers.

      (FYI: more accurate to say I stumbled across, rather than compiled, those resources!)


      Liked by 1 person

  3. Thanks again, Annie! I completely agree that the only chance we all have of getting over this Pandemic is for as many people as possible in our population to get the vaccine, while continuing masking, social distancing, etc. for now. I also have to say that, for 41 plus years of Pediatric practice, I dealt with “vaccine hesitancy” (especially over the last 10 years or so) the whole time. There was some support for “discharging” vaccine -refusing families from our practice, but I usually tried to work with the families (the parents) by giving them trustable information, and at least sometimes, was able to convince them to be immunized. Vaccine refusal really is a big problem, and not just for COVID-19.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. That’s so interesting—and regrettable—George. Yes, the anti-vax movement seems to have grown, to the detriment of us all. And now it’s a weird amalgam from varying parts of the political spectrum.

      How are you feeling? I hope you’re fully recovered or at least well on the mend.


    2. Vaccine refusal really is a big problem, and not just for COVID-19

      It’s a huge problem, and the worst cases I’m familiar with aren’t linked to the “political spectrum” at all. As Annie’s post suggests, much of the opposition to the covid-19 vaccine in the West is among hard-line Catholics who object to the use of stem cells in the research that produced it, because of their taboo on abortion. Extremist Muslims in the more backward parts of the Islamic world, notably Niger and Nigeria, kept certain diseases like polio going after they’d been practically eliminated elsewhere, due to vaccine refusal. Ultra-orthodox Jewish groups in New York and Jerusalem have caused outbreaks of several diseases for the same reason, and have been hard hit by covid-19.

      Vaccines are probably the most powerful life-saving technology ever invented. Fighting against them is madness — the kind of madness one expects from death cults.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I would definitely not be the best person to try to persuade somebody about this. I hate arguments and conflict, and it generally shows.

    That being said, it’s probably wise to adjust one’s response based on the reasons why a particular person objects to the vaccine. You recognized that in this case:

    If concerns are based on religious opposition to the stem cells (in the J&J vaccine), it may be worth mentioning that the Vatican has termed the vaccines “morally acceptable,”

    That would work if the person is Catholic or respects Catholics, but some of the extremist Protestant sects regard the Catholic Church as a tool of Satan, so its endorsement of the vaccine would just intensify their resistance. Most people like that are probably among the unreachable 15% anyway.

    Don’t forget that most Hispanics in the US are citizens or legal residents, and in many cases their families have been citizens for generations. Some might take offense at the assumption that they might be illegals or sympathetic to illegals.

    If someone is afraid because of stories of people who got the vaccine and died soon afterwards (this line is being pushed hard on some wingnut “news” sites), it might help to point out that with hundreds of millions now vaccinated globally — including so many elderly — some people inevitably will die soon after vaccination just by random chance. There was actually an analysis of such deaths (done in Germany, I think, but I can’t find the link now) which found no statistical link between vaccination and such deaths. It’s coincidence.

    If somebody believes vaccines cause autism, but seems otherwise sane, there’s an abundance of evidence confirming that the academic paper on which that claim is based was wrong. It might be worth bringing it to their attention.

    If the person objects because they believe the vaccine is being used by Bill Gates to inject microchips so the Satanic lizard people from outer space can track us and mutate our DNA, you should probably consider whether the human race might be better off without that person in the gene pool anyway.

    But however you slice it, persuading people of something they’ve made up their minds not to believe is hard work. Best of luck.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for adding some relevant and important information to this discussion, Infidel.

      Two clarifications: although your point about the diverse members of the Hispanic community is well taken and I’m glad you made it, I was reporting the recommendations of Dr. Jorge Moreno, who is on a campaign to encourage more Hispanic people to be vaccinated.

      And, with regard to your closing “best of luck,” I thought it was clear that the entire article I was referring to—and thus my post—stressed trying to reach the “movable middle”—not those who said they wouldn’t consider getting the vaccine—or those who said they’d take it only if they must. The focus is on what’s reasonable and possible, not encouraging masochistic time-wasting efforts.

      Liked by 2 people

    1. That’s a terrific essay, Infidel—both emotionally and rationally compelling. Unfortunately, I think its impact requires the individual to have at least an iota of an open mind—and I fear too many anti-vaxxers lack that critical quality. I am thinking of stories healthcare workers have related about being verbally abused in hospitals by people gasping for breath who summon the energy to yell that they can’t have Covid because there’s no such thing.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Excellent piece – and well researched. Too many took the wrong message from the CDC head which was they didn’t think she’d thrown away the script. I though “who cares the message needs to be heeded,” and whether people believe the actual virus is a conspiracy- it’s a conspiracy of dunces – the vaccine is not. I only hope when we see a brighter light at the end of the seemingly endless tunnel we take a page or 12 out of the book that was able to create a vaccine in so short period of time to the cancer world. If that kind of research and development is available then as a pandemic, which I do believe that cancer is, we should focus our attention there next. Especially breast and lung cancer. Colorectal cancer as well as brain cancer etc. but it’s all the same really at the end of the day isn’t it. We need more towards more and 50% of the population is going to be diagnosed with some form of cancer in their lifetime that certainly to me bespeaks a pandemic. Thank you again for a well-written piece, and for bringing this out into the public attention as much as we can. Much love.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Ilene. There is positive news that the Crispr technology that enabled the mRNA vaccine to be adapted to Covid so quickly (technology 10 years in the making, actually) is now in clinical trials involving cancer and other diseases.

      I thank you for bringing that perspective here, now. I’ll be writing more about this topic, and I’m grateful to you and your fellow brave teacher/warriors from the MBC community for continually informing everyone else.


  6. There’s so much misinformation about, largely thanks to social media, that confuses some folks. It’s in everyone’s interests that as many people as possible are vaccinated.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. It concerns me that we continued to have outbreaks in nursing homes here, only to learn that 50% of PSW’s (personal support workers) are vaccinated. I think it should be a requirement of employment. If you don’t care enough to want to protect elderly patients, then maybe a different type of employment would be more suitable for you. We’re desperate for vaccines here, I think about 80% of Canadians said they wanted the shot, so I haven’t run into too many who don’t, but then I don’t interact with many people these days. But I did run into that scenario with the flu shots when I was still working, and frankly got to the point where I just gave up. The odd person who I felt I could persuade was worth taking the time to explain, but the ones who already had their mind made up, forget it, waste of breath. If I had a dollar for every person who said they had the flu shot once an then got the flu/had the worst winter of their life/felt sick blah, blah blah….you really can’t convince people it’s a dead virus.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. How frustrating it must have been for you to be in that position!

      Hoping your vaccine allocations are vastly increased very soon. I hated hearing that your mom’s second dose was postponed for months.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I remember one man who I was able to convince. He said he’d heard flu shots didn’t work half the time….maybe it had been a mismatch that year and he’d heard it on the news. But I told him, some protection is better than none, and even if he got the flu it would be a milder case, esp if you get the shots annually. So he agreed. As for our COVID vaccines, the provincial government has now decided to shift focus and try to immunize essential workers in larger workplaces, like teachers and car plants and Amazon etc…..so I suspect my 60 group will be farther down the list. This is to try and stop the community spread as they now feel too many people are going to work sick etc.

        Liked by 1 person

  8. I guess the reasoning is solid. Maybe the Biden administration will come up with a plan soon to help our good neighbors to the north! I know they’re grappling with how to ensure there will be enough for Americans as children are being inoculated and boosters may be needed, while knowing they should and must help other countries.


    1. I’ve read somewhere that the government already has a plan to donate surplus vaccine to other countries once we’re sure we have enough for our own needs (I wouldn’t have expected Canada to be one of the places with a serious shortage, though).

      I hope that one of the positive effects of the pandemic will be a greater sense of international solidarity as countries with sufficient vaccine help others. Israel has already paid for some vaccine to be supplied to Syria, which is traditionally an enemy but also a neighbor, so they have an interest in helping eradicate covid-19 there. India (the world’s largest vaccine producer) has signaled the intent to help other poor countries with supplies, but considering how big their own population is, it will probably take a while to get their own domestic needs met. It’s only right that the US should also try to help other countries when we can.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I strongly agree, Infidel. There’s nothing like a pandemic to concentrate rational minds internationally on the fact that we’re all in this together. And we know there will be future pandemics, so it would be great if protocols could be developed quite soon. (Perhaps they are, and I just don’t know about them.) The scientific community set the tone on the importance of collaboration early on.

        Liked by 1 person

      1. Right. Originally, the reports were that fewer people had died of blood clots after receiving the vaccine than would normally have died of clots. I hope they’ve firmed up the science.

        Liked by 1 person

  9. My wife and I have had our shots (my, doesn’t this make us sound like dogs) and are not “anti vaxers” by any stretch. However we are not Pollyannas either and have to acknowledge that there are risks.

    This Crispr/RNA technology may well be the great breakthrough many say it is, but it is also true that these non-traditional vaccines were developed very quickly and without the normal trial process most new drugs undergo. I got my shots, but with reservations because there is a lot we don’t know about the long term effects of vaccines using this approach. I guess we’ll all be finding out at some point given that we are all participating in the trial.


    1. When I received my first Pfizer inoculation, I said to the nurse: “And so we join the millions of guinea pigs worldwide.” Life is full of risks, but this pandemic left us believing that we’d be unwise to shun vaccination. Unfortunately, we need many more of us to set aside their qualms—or we’ll go through much worse periods due to all the variants—and the hospitalizations and deaths will continue to climb.

      Note: this was your third comment rescued from spam, but it shouldn’t happen again.


    2. My wife and I also got the vaccine (Pfizer), with no problems. I agree that there are risks to this, as well as all vaccines (though I think the Pfizer vaccine is one with few, if any, serious risks). There’s also risk to not getting the vaccine–namely, getting COVID-19. There are risks to everything we chose to do, or not to do.

      Liked by 1 person

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