What is the Goal of Vaccine Discourse?
Every day of 2021 brings more good COVID-19 vaccine news in the United States. As of early March, an average of nearly two million Americans were being vaccinated per day. The FDA approved the Johnson and Johnson one-shot vaccine back in late February. States are loosening their restrictions on who is eligible and how they can receive their shots. At the same time, coronavirus-related news remains cautiously optimistic. The drop in cases has slowed but remains steady. Warmer spring air, along with numerous medical developments, have made many Americans more optimistic than they had been in months.
Questions still remain, however. What will the impact of the virus variants be? How will state governments such as Texas and Mississippi impede the fight against the virus by repealing mask mandates? And, most importantly, how should we as a nation be talking about the COVID-19 vaccine? How do we overcome the continued hesitancy to get the shot and the constant fearmongering and conspiracy theories surrounding the vaccine? Resistance to the vaccine has dropped considerably since December, with a recent study showing only 24% of Americans planning on not receiving a COVID-19 vaccine when it becomes available to them. How can we get those numbers down to zero?
The goal of vaccine discourse should be to share information that will push as many people as possible to legally obtain the vaccine. Public officials, policy writers, and others should be crafting their messages to pursue this goal. There are no certainties about vaccine messaging, but it is obvious that portraying the vaccine as helpful and effective is central to an effective communications policy. People enjoy having the power to change society for the better. They want to go back to doing the things they were doing before March 2020. The vaccine is a step every individual can take to protect themselves, protect their friends, and bring society back to normal. Why wouldn’t everyone want to emphasize its importance?
Unfortunately, many writers and public officials have not made “more vaccines in arms” their number one messaging goal. They want to emphasize other, less tangible or beneficial goals in their messages and tweets. Many of these writers believe in the power of public discourse to dictate behavior. They believe that beneficial messages about vaccines will be lumped together with positive rhetoric about the virus itself not being harmful.
According to these writers, this soft-on-viruses rhetoric was a major reason why the United States has suffered more than any other developed nation. Bloomberg’s Noah Smith summarized their views in a recent tweet in response to a story about declining case numbers: “we’re going to eat the marshmallow, we always do.” These writers believe that if they say the vaccine will end the pandemic, unvaccinated people will go out and return to their pre-2020 behavior. They will increase case numbers, strain hospitals, and lead to a worsening of the pandemic right at the moment when cases should be dropping.
Along with the desire to be as serious as possible about the disease, many writers also want to prove how they were right all along. This tendency has shown itself in the grim spectacle of numerous writers and thinkers posting one-year anniversary tweets about how right they were regarding the impact of the coronavirus. Volunteers have even set up a Twitter account, @YearCovid, designed to collect many of these stories and headlines. Blasting “I was right” about a disease that has killed half a million Americans should be viewed as a shameful act. But it is yet another indication that a writer is taking the virus seriously. Posting about how vaccines will end it is not viewed in the same light and is, therefore, not as popular a position to take in the vaccine discourse.
This approach has its own faults. Americans are not embracing the vaccine as quickly as they should have. One of the main reasons is that many people do not see the benefits as clearly as they should. If people still have to wear masks, if crowds will still be limited, and if the COVID-19 virus may eventually go away, then why go out of one’s way to get a vaccine? If the virus is a killer, and vaccines are in short supply, then why not wait to give vaccine doses to more vulnerable populations? These people are, of course, joined by people with concerns about vaccine safety and those who still believe the virus is a “hoax.” Too-careful writers and skeptics have combined to create a significant vaccine-skeptic segment of the population that has helped contribute to the nation’s slow rollout.
The naysayers and nitpickers have created a scenario in which their somber words have been internalized by millions of Americans. These Americans want to do the right thing. They want to be careful. The people who they look to for guidance, instead, want to prove how they were right all along and how serious they view the disease. They have put people at risk by pointing out every possible risk that could be associated with the disease. And even in a period of the virus receding, they still cannot help themselves in portraying every potential threat and negative trend associated with this deadly disease.
Pundits and writers have immense power in the United States today. Their work was a major reason why it took the country so long to embrace masks in the spring, and also a reason why masks became so popular later in the year. The goal of virus-related discourse must be to push the clearest message possible to get people vaccinated. More vaccines means that the United States will have a greater chance of ending the pandemic and saving lives. This goal is more important than any vaccine discourse pundit showing off how serious they are about social distancing, or how smart they were one year ago.
I remember reading an article by someone who worked on annual cause of death statistics for a few years. He said he went mildly insane during that time, because he knew how everything in his line of sight could kill you. The experts are thinking that way when they talk about variants of the virus. Of course it’s true that variants of coronavirus could be far deadlier and uncontrollable; but that’s true about variants of anything. They need to get on-message: enough people get the vaccine and we’re done. Get the vaccine sooner and we’re done sooner.Report
Well, given I’ve doing doing full contact martial arts for over 9 months, and I’m technically at high risk for catching this bug, I’m curious on how to square that “science”. Maybe I’m an outlier. I will say that I think that our stats in the US are higher because American’s are sicker that most other countries. Greater rates of diabetes, etc.
I don’t listen, generally to pundits, especially those who don’t have the credentials. I also stopped listening to Fauci when he admitted he lied to the US populace. He doesn’t get redemption or credibility anymore…ever. Recent studies have suggested that masks don’t work, published in well known journals, but I expect it’ll be a few years for all the “facts” become final and confirmed and we find out what really happened and what works.
So I’m not getting a vaccine any time soon. I’ll wait and see the results of the first batches of “test subjects” over the next several months. Some folks I know, who deal with this sorta stuff, say the second shot causes a massive immune reaction and you feel like crap for a few days. I’ll pass on that for now. When I’m looking to go on vacation, I’ll revisit the issue.Report
Are you referring to the Danish study that followed 5,000 people for a month, less than 100 of whom got the virus, the results of which were “statistically compatible with an effect ranging from a 46% decrease to a 23% increase in infection”?
As for squaring your experience with the science, you’re one person. No one’s said that proper hygiene will guarantee safety, or that improper hygiene will guarantee illness. There’s a lot of randomness involved. But barring convincing scientific evidence, I’d have to say you’re acting in a way that, to some extent, increases the danger for others.Report
I’d have to look it up as I don’t recall. As to my situation, I never argued that my opinion on getting a vaccine is the decision others should take. My decision is that….mine. Your mileage may vary. I will not force you to take any action. I expect the same.
And if I’m acting in a way that “increases the danger to others”, then I refer you to the 30 people is class today that all are doing the same thing.Report
This sounds like a smoker’s reasoning.Report
I don’t know. I’ve smoked once, didn’t like it. However, if you like doing it, go for it. I just won’t be hanging around near you.Report
I’m more interested in “squaring” how you’re a karate-man badass whose kung-fu is too strong for the Wuhan Flu and yet you’re scared of feeling like crap for a few days.Report
There is no “squaring”. I can get the vaccine and endure the reaction, or get a better vaccine later (assuming that one has a lower or no reaction) or not get it at all and rely on heard immunity. The point about the martial arts is that I’ve been, for over nine months, in direct physical contact with many people, of all ages, and no one has come down with the bug.Report
The problem is if too many people do what you do, we don’t get to herd immunity. Herd immunity requires the herd. If you don’t have a medical reason to avoid the vaccine, it is remarkably selfish of you to avoid getting it. Full stop.
There is a potential cost to the vaccine, namely in the form of short-term side-effects. Nothing is free. If we want to get back to normal, we need to get as many people vaccinated as possible and we need those folks to accept the cost of doing so.
You want to get back to normal but you don’t want to pay the cost. You want others to.Report
That’s conservative libertarianism in a nutshell.Report
I don’t want to paint with broad strokes. While everything related to the pandemic has been politicized, that politicization has often resulted in strange bedfellows. I would personally say that anyone who’s mindset is, “I’ll let others do the work of getting us to herd immunity and wait until I feel better about getting the vaccine myself,” is being selfish, regardless of their political bent.
The same thing is true of anti-vaxxers of other stripes, most of whom come from the left.Report
I’ll just say my feelings about fellow humanity are about 80% more sour as a result of the pandemic, and more than once I’ve gone “go back out into the world? Why would I want to?”
I got vaccinated when I could, despite being apprehensive for myself (I have weird allergies and indeed, I came down with raging hives on top of the flu-like reaction that is typical)
but at least now I won’t need to concern myself over “how many unmasked people might be in this store” when I need to buy groceriesReport
That last part used to be true, but my understanding is that nowadays it’s more of a right-wing thing. I haven’t seen any good recent data, though.Report
In contrast to Democratic Socialism where you force people to pay taxes for the path dependencies of 19 century thinking.
You guys just don’t really see any reflection in the mirror when you type this stuff out.Report
You want libraries? That’s a 19th century way of thinking that costs money. Police are a 19th century way of thinking that costs money. The courts are a 19th century way of thinking that costs money. So yeah, we do expect people to pay for the services they demand from a thing they call government.
I get that you don’t want to pay f r that stuff, but there is stuff you want, stuff you use, and stuff that benefits you that needs to be paid for. That’s basic economics in human societies. Tough to get around bro.Report
The difference is…. if i want something i will pay for it.
I know yall are terrible at the economic realization of subjective value, but that’s yalls blind spot and not mine.Report
As someone who was rooting for the candidate whose platform was “I will give you so much free stuff and make those bastards pay for it,” you shouldn’t be so quick to point fingers.
I’m getting my vaccine first chance I get, for the record. Looks like it’s going to be a while, though.Report
When the alternative is “I will give you so much free stuff and no one will ever pay for it” …Report
“it is remarkably selfish of you to avoid getting it. Full stop.”
Yep it is. In my state, however, I’m not yet eligible to get the vaccine, so it’s kinda moot ATM.
“conservative libertarianism ” Actually, I slide along the liberal and anarchist libertarian line depending upon the issue, but I don’t expect others to bother understanding my politics. Labels are easier.Report
“I can get the vaccine and endure the reaction”
So do that.
“but I don’t want a reaction!”
ur a wimp lolReport
No, not a wimp. I prioritize earning money/having fun over being sick. The first two vaccines came out and require 2 shots each. Now the J&J one is out requiring only 1 shot. Odds are, there’ll be gradual improvements in the vaccine to reduce “after effects”. Why would I rush out as soon as I’m able to get one that will be replaced in 3 months or 6 months? It’ll be months before I’m even eligible to get a vaccine. Might as well wait a bit longer and get a shot that doesn’t make me sick..Report
I got my first dose of the Moderna vaccine this morning, second dose scheduled for four weeks. The final personal deciding factor for me is the growing body of evidence that from about two weeks after the first dose, you may still catch the virus, but it doesn’t put you in the hospital or kill you. It would be nice if that same evidence said you don’t get “long Covid” either, but it will take more time for that to show up (if it does).Report
I got dose #2 of Pfizer today. I qualify in NY as a teacher/child care provider. I live in NJ and NJ has not approved teachers to receive the vaccine in-state until March 15th.
I was initially hesitant to get vaccinated for the sole reason that I am not CURRENTLY working in a school, having taken leave to support my own children with their remote learning and likely won’t return to regular work until next fall. With vaccines in short supply, I didn’t want to take doses from other folks who were bearing the risks that made my “class” eligible to begin with. However, as more doses became available and appointments became easier to come by and I read more medical ethicists and other experts who had a pretty clear message of, “If you are eligible for the vaccine, get the vaccine,” I made an appointment as soon as I could.
The more people we get vaccinated sooner, the better everything is for everyone. Fewer people sick. Fewer people dead. And more normalcy faster. I don’t understand why so many folks in such influential positions don’t seem to understand that. Fauci saying we MAY be wearing masks in 2022? Well, yea. We may also be invaded by Martians then. But what the hell does that have to do with anything? All that did was encourage people NOT to get the vaccine, because if taking a couple needles in the arm doesn’t make anything better, why bother?
I have strong suspicion that I have some natural immunity or resistance to the thing, plus I am basically as low risk as it gets among adults. I have some exposure risk due to three kids being in school, my girlfriend working in a school, and the boys’ mother working full time in a health care setting (primarily office work but still). But I still had more than enough “reason” to wait. But no one should wait. Again, the more shots we get into more arms, the better. Full stop. That needs to be the message.Report
In Peoria, IL, as of today, 85.74% of those 65 and over have received their first dose. So the vaccine plays in Peoria. The national media is doing an awful job and deserve to be scoriated, but most people aren’t paying attention to them.Report
According to current info, we are 13 days away from Colorado moving up to the phase where my household happens to reside (Team Obesity!) and I’m just counting the minutes thinking “you just know if I’m going to get it, I’m going to get it in the final stretch”.
Two weeks to get the first shot (assuming I can get stuck on Day One).
Two weeks after the first shot to get the second shot (assuming I can get stuck on Day Fifteen).
Two weeks for the stuff to kick in.
I know that this is a major victory for Big Pharma and they’ve pulled off what was openly claimed to be impossible a year ago. Hell, 9 months ago.
But it also feels like “Six Weeks To Slow The Spread”.Report
A friend of mine who also lives in NJ and works in finance shared that he would be getting his vaccine this week.
“Dude, how? Teachers aren’t even eligible until next week.”
“Ex-smoker who has an obese BMI,” he replied.
I responded the only way that felt right given this obvious perversion of equity: “Does this mean you’re legally fat now?”
So maybe he’ll be spared from this potentially deadly disease and resolve much of the anxiety that has plagued him for the past year… but now he’ll always be legally fat to me. Is it worth it, punk? Is it?Report
That’s *OUR* word, Kazzy.Report
Ha! If this wasn’t one of my best friends for the past 20 years… like, we were both in the others’ weddings kinda best friends… I wouldn’t have used that word.Report
TBF Kazzy wasn’t using the word, he was clinically trying to understand the word and the context. So, he won’t be fired… just asked to resign.
And for the record, we don’t like the word Hypertension, we prefer Sanguinely Restrained.Report
The message of vaccine discourse is that the sooner everybody takes their vaccine, the faster we can get back to normal. The problem is that public health officials can’t give this message because they are prone to be small c-conservative in all their statements. A culture war has also developed among some Americans between the Covid dick waivers and the people who are treating being super serious about Covid as a sign of virtue. The later won’t go along with a let us get back to normal venture because it is unserious.Report
Well . . . not so much. All scientists – including public health professionals – are trained to NOT speak in absolutes, because we generally can’t know the absolute truth until after the fact. You don’t get published in peer reviewed literature speaking in absolutes. You don’t get tenure speaking in absolutes. Its not how science works, because we do know, procedurally, as soon as you speak in absolutes someone will publish different data in your model refuting your conclusions. Remember Cold Fusion?Report
Sometimes, the correct course of action is to not speak in absolutes by not speaking.Report
Have you ever met a scientists who refuses to answer a question?
The scientists do need help communicating – in fact there’s now a whole profession dedicated to doing so.
But the public does as well. We don’t teach basic probability anymore, much less in real world ways. Which means that some scientists – against the advice of communications professionals – will speak in absolutes because they know their audience can’t handle the nuance.Report
Twitter had a small argument over what “95% effective meant” and half the people arguing thought it meant that if you rolled a 1 on a d20 then you died, and the other half were explaining Diablo II’s magicfind mechanic where if you had a 2% chance to get a magic drop and you got a helm that gave you +20% to magic find, that doesn’t mean that you now have 22% magicfind, but 2.1% magicfind and so the 5% chance really means that if you had a 1 in 100 chance before, then now you have a 1 in 2000 chance and everybody was screaming and nobody understood anything.
Social Media was a mistake.Report
A long time ago, I was a juror is a case about the results of using a medical device. The contortions both side went to to game what N meant in “N%” effective were beyond belief.
Manufacturer: Only 1% of people using our stuff got it, so we’re 99% effective.
Plaintiff: Only 1% of people in the world get it.
Manufacturer: Do you have a point?
Plaintiff: They say they’re 99% effective because in a 1-year study only 1% of people got it. But in a 2-year study more than 1% of people got it. And in a 3-year study, even more!Report
“Does anyone on the Jury know math?”
(raises hand gingerly)
“We’d like to summarily dismiss Mr. Schilling.”Report
I remain shocked that that didn’t happen.Report
My father would get as far as “What do you do for a living, Mr. Cain?” When he told them that he worked for an insurance company, both sides waved him off.Report
Smart ones do. Savvy public officials know to only let the smart ones talk.
When did we?Report
I’m not a “scientist” but as a teacher I’m often asked by laypeople to offer definitive answers that I simply cannot offer. I often tell them, “I know this is going to sound frustrating but most of my answers will start with, ‘Well, it depends…’.” And while that sometimes IS frustrating, it is necessary for me to do and in most cases gains the parents respect and ultimately leaves them better positioned then if I responded with faux certainty.
Though recently we did joke that going forward, we would answer such questions with a confident, “32! Next question…”Report
Yes, but many folks have spoken in absolutes when it was convenient and now avoid speaking in absolutes when that is convenient.Report
My covid documentary title: “Killing Gramma”.
It starts with the Tiger King, wanders through the guy wearing a Grim Reaper outfit next to the beach at Memorial Day, shows a bunch of people protesting together in large crowds, shows the Grim Reaper guy standing in front of a bunch of people going to the beach at Labor Day, shows a bunch of people celebrating Biden’s win, has Texas opening up a couple of weeks before Connecticut opens up, and then finishes with gramma getting the shot and dying because she’s allergic to silicon chips.Report
I don’t know for sure, but from what I’ve seen most of the messaging comes from political officials and media. The media are interested in drama, so they’re going to play that up. But public officials – their only priority should be national health.Report
so “public officials” and “political officials” are the same thing.
Assuming you meant public health officials – I believe their priority has been national health. Which is why so many of them were sidelined or run off by the last administration. Dr. Faucci went through a several month period where his honesty about what worked at the time and what was known at the time got him shut off from the media by the WH because they didn’t like what he was saying.Report
I had an argument with my siblings about Fauci’s comments on herd immunity, wherein he shifted the “estimate” on when we’d reach it based on polling data of people’s feeling about the vaccine. I argued that he flat out misrepresented the science. They argued that he was doing public advocacy and had to tweak the numbers to encourage people to get vaccinated. Who was right? Well obviously I think I’m right. But that is of less importance. The more important thing this evidenced was that we have blown up the line between the science and the policy.Report
Philip – That was just a typo on my part. I’m saying that, while many public statements have been made by scientists, many have also been made by the press and elected officials. Your observation about scientists being reluctant to make absolute statements doesn’t explain the problems with the latter two groups.
Kazzy – Related to the above, yes, you’re definitely right that there’s been a loss of distinction between the scientific voice and the policy voice. There are some positions (like head of HHS) that are bound to be wearing two hats, but the fewer people in that position the better.
A member of the presidential Council of Economic Advisors once said that the politician can work with the economist much like the lion can lie down with the lamb: you need a large supply of lambs.Report
modern politicians deal in absolutes, no matter what they are actually told or understand. Any federal agency official who has to be confirmed by the Senate is always functioning as a politician no matter their background or training before coming to office.
The media loves a horse race. They don’t like nuance, especially in a 24/7 news cycle.Report
Interesting development: The NYT had previously been making Covid-related news — including their charts and tracking pages — free to all readers without a subscription or even log in. They appear to have stopped that. Could be a temporary glitch. Could be that they set the “free access” to expire after a year or something and just never extended it. Could be they need the money. Could be for some reason they no longer consider it information of such importance to all that it shouldn’t be behind a paywall. Could be something else. Curious, to me at least.Report
There was a fun article in the Jerusalem Post this morning… that has since been edited.
That’s the original.
Here’s what it is now. You may click on the link and say “they changed the headline!” but please note the wording of the link itself… it kept the original title.Report
What ‘right’ is there to impose ‘herd’ anything?Report
If you want a vision of the future, imagine people living healthy, smallpox-free lives….forever.Report
Imagine a world where a smallpox mutation gets released from some chinese low security facility…..and there is no shots for a year. I can now see a scenario where every damned socialists turns into mask and social distancing naszi for damn near a year.
If socialists don’t want anything bad to happen, they should stay in their bedrooms for the rest of their lives.
Especially those running facilities in communist countries.Report
Better yet, imagine a world where we lived socialist free lives…..forever.
Shout out to Rodrigo Duterte, may he put as many commies in the ground as possible.Report
Heh, commies. Greetings from the 21st century.Report
“Sir…should we re-write the Communist Manifesto…”
“No sonny, the devout followers will just change their names every few decades and try it again.”Report
I’m sure he’d be happy to help you emmigrateReport
since there are “big herds” of commies ’round your parts you surely know how to define one. Please share. And flesh out “open season.”Report
It’s common knowledge where the commies are in Texas (more so in the last year). Open season is obvious enough to not need fleshed out.Report
We do tend to shoot back.Report
I am counting on it.Report
That’s funny that you would conflate censorship with me simply pointing out the US may not be the best place for you ideologically.Report
He’s complaining about the editors blocking one of his comments.Report
Ghosting censorship placemarkers, nice touch.Report
“in any crisis, statists will attempt to gain power. Therefore there are no crises.”Report
I’m gonna get the vaccine as soon as it’s available; heck, if I could pay a modest fee to be vaccinated early I’d do that.Report
Have you considered participating in a trial? I waslooking into it — not because I felt an urgent need to get vaccinated but because I had no scruples about doing so and felt like any action contributing to getting through this was the right one. But the girlfriend ixnayed it… something about not wanting me to die and abandon all the children or something.
Anyway, there may still be trials going on which likely will get oyou vaccinated faster AND will help others get vaccinated faster. Even if you are placeboed, I believe you get priority status if/when approval is achieved.Report
That’s a good suggestion. I’ll look into it.Report