We now have several COVID vaccines. All work, all have passed safety testing, and all are in wide distribution.
This is a huge accomplishment, but there’s one problem: A lot of people aren’t taking the shot.
Are they just ignorant anti-vaxxers?
No. As a recent focus group by Frank Luntz, reported in The Washington Post, demonstrates, a lot of people who won’t take the vaccine aren’t skeptical about vaccines in general. Just about this batch.
So maybe they’re just Red State Luddites?
No. In fact, it’s a worldwide phenomenon. Yes, there’s resistance in the United States: Gallup reported in February that 34 percent of front-line health workers said they wouldn’t get the vaccine, with another 18 percent unsure; fewer than half said they would definitely get jabbed. Only 65 percent of Americans as a whole said they would get the vaccine.
But there’s also resistance abroad. Reuters reported that only about half of French care-home workers are willing to get the vaccine; the rest prefer to wait and see if it’s safe. Reuters quotes a union official who says “there’s a complete lack of trust.”
Reuters reports similar numbers in Germany. Also in Germany, and in Italy, thousands of health-care workers have refused the AstraZeneca vaccine, even though it’s approved in Europe. In the German state of Saarland, The Wall Street Journal reports, over half of health workers slated to get a shot simply failed to show up.
PBS NewsHour reports similar vaccine-skepticism in India. And NBC reports that thousands of serving US military personnel are opting not to take the vaccine.
So what’s the problem? For so much of the lockdown period, we heard the words “until there’s a vaccine.” Now we have a vaccine — several, in fact — and in record time, thanks to Operation Warp Speed. Why are so many people, including health-care workers who should know the most and care the most, refusing it now?
I think it comes down to, in that French trade-union official’s words, “a complete lack of trust.”
Trust is the single most important asset that the public-health community has. Public health involves getting people to change behaviors, and accept vaccines and medications, to control disease.
For most of my lifetime, that has been an easy task: People trusted the public-health authorities, in part because they had a long track record of making people’s lives better. And, of course, people trusted institutions in general.
But now trust is harder to come by. Institutions in general are less trusted, as one legacy of the Trump era has been the revelation of just how politicized (and sometimes corrupt) so many of our major institutions are.
And then there’s the record of the public-health establishment itself in the COVID era, which has been untrustworthy. Just over a year ago, in early March 2020, Dr. Anthony Fauci was telling us it was safe to go on a cruise, and experts said that masks wouldn’t be of any use for most people.
Both of those statements were quickly reversed, but when it came out that the mask recommendation was really just meant to ensure supplies for health-care workers, Fauci’s — and the World Health Organization’s — trust levels took a major hit.
Fauci also told us last April that it would be at least a year to 18 months before we saw a vaccine, when in fact one was deployed as early as November of the same year. When asked about herd immunity, Fauci moved the goalposts, when experts were saying that the threshold for herd immunity was 60 percent of the population being vaccinated or immune. Then he revised the number up to 70, 75 and eventually 85.
Why? As Fauci admitted, he was manipulating us: “When polls said only about half of all Americans would take a vaccine, I was saying herd immunity would take 70 to 75 percent. . . . Then, when newer surveys said 60 percent or more would take it, I thought, ‘I can nudge this up a bit,’ so I went to 80, 85.”
People noticed, partly because he was bragging to a New York Times reporter when he said that.
Likewise, lockdowns were widely prescribed, and continue to be, even though the World Health Organization admits they don’t work. (A recent paper in Nature came to the same conclusion.) Where’s the science?
It doesn’t help that Democratic politicians like Joe Biden, Kamala Harris and Andrew Cuomo were expressing vaccine-skepticism during the runup to the 2020 elections. Sure, they changed their tunes afterward, but that doesn’t inspire trust either.
When you manipulate people, they notice, and they trust you less. Do better.
Glenn Harlan Reynolds is a professor of law at the University of Tennessee and founder of the InstaPundit.com blog.
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