Wednesday, December 1

Should we shame the anti-vaccines? That can only be counterproductive | Emma brockes

TOI received an email from my cousin this week explaining how bad the Covid cases were in her part of South Africa. Delta is increasing, he wrote; his friends and neighbors were beginning to die. Meanwhile, vaccination rates were dire, with less than 5% of the population fully vaccinated. After catching up on the rest of the family news, she assured me that she and her husband were on the waiting list for vaccinations, so it was worth it. Her husband, she said, was “convinced that they were not safe.”

This was information for me. Not that a member of my extended family differs from me in their thoughts on drug trials and government agency approval, but more broadly: wow, I had no idea that my cousin was married to a lunatic.

This was a reflex response. At a strange moment in the life of the pandemic, when each step forward is seemingly followed, immediately, by a leap in the numbers and a hasty step back, there is an iron certainty: that it gives the opportunity to call someone else. crazy, it’s almost impossible to refuse.

This comfort is particularly available in the United States right now, where a third of Americans eligible for the vaccine are stubbornly without soaps. (By contrast, in Britain, 88% of those eligible have received at least one dose.) The fact that these vaccine rejections fall demographically along existing lines of political divide has made dismissing them as fanatics that much easier. Undervaccinated populations in the U.S. lean heavily toward traditionally Republican areas in the South and Midwest, particularly among those no university degrees.

Articles abound about idiots partying, for example, on a Missouri lake. (“Personally,” He says an unmasked and unvaccinated waiter serving unmasked and unvaccinated customers, “I feel like my immune system is doing a good job, so why fill it with something we really don’t know what it is?”) The popular image of the vaccine The hesitant American is a Trump supporter, his limited capabilities further eroded by too much time spent absorbing the work of online conspiracy theorists.

Some aspects of this image may be true. The fact is, however, that the liberal scorn of vaccinators is based on double standards. If we think that vaccine rejections are not inspired by neutral information, but by pre-existing narratives (the Democrats are bad, the government is bad, everything is a hoax), this is a dynamic, we are not completely free from ourselves. The pleasure one gets when faced with an anti-vaccine by saying “these people are crazy” and instantly placing them in the category of dumb idiots clearly pays as strong an emotional dividend as those being indulged on the other side.

And the demographics of Covid anti-vax are not entirely clear. Many parents who didn’t think twice about giving their children the MMR vaccine, for example, are undecided about what to do in the fall, when the U.S. Food and Drug Administration will almost certainly approve the vaccine. for children under 12 years old. I’ve heard similar anxious murmurs from pregnant women getting vaccinated.

The closest I have come to understanding this mindset came one afternoon when I thought about the guarantees given to women by the British government during the thalidomide scandal of the 1960s. For a second, I could feel it: the lure of thinking that the real credulity here is blind faith in the government.

It did not last. Neither will, perhaps, the tendency of those vaccinated to belittle those who remain hesitant, for the simple reason that it will backfire and end up doing us more harm. During the first wave of the vaccine launch in the US, there was a collective sentiment among the vaccinated population of: big deal, if they’re dumb enough not to get vaccinated, they’ll get sick. Now, thanks to the latest advances in armchair epidemiology, we understand that if a large part of the population remains unvaccinated, not only will the reopening of society be compromised, but it will also provide a Petri dish for potential strains of the virus to develop. vaccine resistant viruses.

“Let them get sick” has become a familiar refrain during the Trump years, for different reasons: “My God, these people are going to get us all killed.”

Calling them dumb assholes, therefore, while it may feel really good, is not a useful strategy for drawing people to your side of the discussion. This week, Kay Ivey, the Republican governor of Alabama, which has one of the lowest vaccination rates in the United States, said, “It’s time to start blaming the unvaccinated.” And you understood their point of view. However, pointing the finger does not work. “We all but embarrass people” Johnny taylorthe director of the Society for Human Resource Management told the New York Times this week in reference to efforts by private companies to persuade undecided staff to get vaccinated. “But now we are at a point where none of that is working and we have to close the gap.”

Offering people $ 100 to get their vaccine, as President Biden has urged states to do, may work for some people; others may end up being forced to take it. (Biden has announced that the nation’s entire federal civilian workforce, more than 2 million people, will also require vaccination.)

In the meantime, I try to resist the urge to ask my cousin what is wrong with her husband and, in the process, be less quiet. “Why do you think that?” I said.

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