Since last year, the COVID-19 pandemic has caused the death of over half a million Americans. Thanks to the tireless work of scientists, the US is blessed to have not 1, but 3 vaccines available for emergency use to immunize citizens against the disease. The next step in transitioning to a post-COVID society is convincing enough Americans to get their shot. Right now, an approximate 40% of the population is either unwilling or unsure about taking the vaccine. For the country to achieve herd immunity levels at 70 to 85% immunization, between 10 and 15% of hesitant individuals need to change their minds. Luckily, encouraging that change of heart may be simpler than many think.
The first step to eliminating vaccine hesitancy is to identify the affected groups. While minor drops in vaccine confidence are seen in rural populations and the Black/African-American community, they are nowhere near as dramatic as the divide by political affiliation. Americans who identify with a right-leaning political affiliation are 65% likely to vaccinate against COVID-19, as compared to 92% of apoliticals and 95% of the mainstream left. While this gap remains concerning, it is worth noting that it has been closing in recent months. As of December 2020, the percentage of people on the right who wanted to vaccinate was 41% while all other political groups stuck to the 90% range. Already, progress is being made in convincing right-leaning individuals of the vaccine’s benefits. Where progress exists, it can be continued.
The key to addressing vaccine hesitancy is understanding where it comes from. For those holding out on the vaccine, their reasoning tends to fall in one of two categories: they either want to enforce their freedom of choice or they fear the side effects a vaccine may cause them. Convincing the former group will require one to highlight the personal and economic benefits vaccination may bring them. Meanwhile, the latter group will need to speak with a medical provider they trust to receive accurate information that can assuage their concerns. Often, said medical provider is a family doctor, whose vaccination rates remain at an all-time high of 99%.
Now that the causes of vaccine hesitancy are understood, the final step is executing a plan of action. Closing the confidence gap in Americans regarding the COVID-19 vaccine will require incentives, convenience, and positive dialogue. In incentives, freedom of choice must stay clearly present, but both governments and companies can experiment with incentives that resonate with the groups they are most concerned about. In West Virginia, where many conservative, elderly people live, vaccination is a major priority. The state government is exploring financial incentives they can give to those who vaccinate. In convenience, many prefer their family doctor to mass vaccination sites. Other options are partnerships with retailers or professional sports leagues. Finally, a positive dialogue relies on highlighting the good things about the COVID vaccines, not pointing fingers at certain politicians. Every American benefits from a post-COVID society. Everyone can help get us there.