Pushing through pessimism: Our most important action in fighting COVID-19 vaccine resistance
I don’t want to be writing about a surge in COVID-19 cases and vaccine opponents right now, but thinking about much else is difficult and feels unimportant. We need to get the country headed back in the right direction, and for my healthcare marketing and communication colleagues, we can help do that by not giving in to our frustration and staying focused on vaccine promotion. Taking that approach is critically important, but it’s going to require us to push through deep feelings of pessimism.
On a hypothetical scale between those who consider themselves to be either optimists or pessimists, I rank myself smack dab in the middle. I often say that I’m neither a pessimist nor an optimist – I’m a realist who acts according to the conditions I observe going on around me. However, my philosophy on life is being greatly tested right now with the frustrating response to COVID-19 vaccinations that we are seeing in this country.
When you reflect on the completely preventable surge in COVID-19 cases happening this summer, it’s difficult not to get frustrated and simply want to give up. Even when casually surfing your social media platforms you encounter a lot of anger and frustration from those who have chosen to get vaccinated directed at the unvaccinated. While to some degree those feelings are understandable, they are not productive.
However, the struggle to get past anger and frustration is something I’ve been personally wrestling with over the past two weeks. This has only been reinforced by reading comments in response to various social media posts from people supporting vaccination. Many of these comments really test your faith in humanity. Here are just a few comments that I came across in response to one LinkedIn post supporting vaccine mandates from employers:
“Mandating people to get the vaccine is absolutely absurd and destroys freedom of choice. I'd rather die than take your vaccine.”
“I suggest that corporations shut up about vaccinations and focus on business and leave employees, who are all adults, to take care of themselves. This paternalism makes me sick.”
“This is a sad day in our society! We already have a healthcare worker crisis and you are forcing heroes of yesterday's pandemic into pawns!”
“Mandating something that requires a person take something into their body - what happened to my body, my choice? Where are the freedoms of the US? What happened to the Nuremberg treaty? Didn't we learn anything from the Holocaust.”
I’m just going to stop there and won’t even get into the responses that presented all sorts of pseudoscience as "evidence" against vaccination. Let me also emphasize that these comments were posted on LinkedIn, a site where (theoretically) you are trying to portray yourself as a calm and rational professional!
People who make comments like the ones above won’t be moved to get vaccinated, and there is no use trying to argue with them or persuade them by employing logic. Those with extreme, emotion-driven views on vaccination will only come around to getting the vaccine through mandates, having their access to certain parts of society restricted or seeing some combination of the virus getting more deadly for the unvaccinated while the vaccinated stay healthier in comparison
That’s my take as realist who is trying not to lean too hard into pessimism.
What can we do?
When dealing with the steadfast opponents of COVID-19 vaccination, here is the plan I suggest:
Don’t engage them in the comments on social media. You cannot win arguments that are based on emotion or misinformation by using logic.
Block or mute people who are disrespectful or rude. You are under no obligation to put up with people who insult you or share false information.
Continue sharing accurate news and positive stories that will encourage vaccination. The vaccine opponents are good at flooding the zone with their misinformation; we need to be equally as aggressive at sharing accurate information.
Stay positive. The steadfast opponents are likely a relatively small percentage of the overall population, but they are loud and active. For every person flipping out on social media saying they would rather die than get vaccinated, probably two people are just getting their shots.
Focus on what you can do to make a difference. As healthcare marketers and communicators, we need to focus on the people who can be moved. We’ll need to continue putting out helpful, useful and relevant information for those who are open to getting vaccinated. We cannot give up on these groups just because they aren't moving as fast as we would like.
Pushing through feelings of pessimism and helping to drive positive change is our challenge for the rest of 2021. It's not going to be easy, but giving up will only prolong the pandemic. Nobody wants that outcome, especially those of us in healthcare.
SHSMD/AHA Addressing Vaccine Hesitancy Webinar. I was one of several speakers during this event.
Vaccine communications resources from the American Hospital Association.
Recommendations for Increasing Vaccine Uptake: Seven Archetypes Full Report and Quick Reference Guide (Kaiser Permanente and the California Coronavirus Testing Task Force).