After disrupting life everywhere and killing millions globally, the COVID-19 pandemic finally has a cure in the form of several vaccines. For countries like America to end the pandemic, they need to have 70 to 85% of their population vaccinated. With large sections of the country still hesitant to take the shot, however, between 10 and 15% of the population still needs to change their mind to make herd immunity happen. How can vaccine confidence in the US peak past its plateau?
First, one needs to understand which groups of people are hesitant to receive a vaccine. While those living in rural areas or members of the Black/African American community are slightly less likely to seek vaccination, the real indicator of hesitancy is political affiliation. Those who identify their politics as right leaning are 65% likely to vaccinate as compared to 92% of apolitical individuals and 95% of the mainstream left. This disparity is dramatic, but it is worth noting that it has been improving in recent months. When people across the political spectrum were asked about vaccine confidence in December 2020, the numbers for people on the right were 41%. Meanwhile, the confidence of other groups has stayed largely the same.
If one wishes to get more specific regarding consumer attributes of vaccine-hesitant people, there are a number of traits that go beyond race, geography, or political affiliation. Research shows that the vaccine ambivalent are likely to spend more in physical stores than on online shopping, they have an average education of high school or less, and often own multiple pets. While some of these traits don’t seem to relate to vaccination, they can help target campaigns that encourage confidence in the shot. According to Glenna Crooks, “we’ve not applied the industry’s commercialization skills to the challenge of increasing vaccine confidence [yet]… we need to leverage the market research, marketing, communications, sales, patient advocacy, public relations, and healthcare delivery expertise within companies.”
The rationale that vaccine holdouts list for their position is split between freedom of choice and fear of side effects. As such, efforts to increase vaccination rates should focus on addressing these concerns head on. A three-pronged approach to closing the confidence gap will require incentives, convenience, and positive dialogue. With incentives, freedom of choice must remain paramount, but governments and companies ought to experiment with incentives that resonate with the people they want to reach. For example, New Jersey has launched their “Shot and a Beer” program to encourage citizens of drinking age to get vaccinated. When it comes to convenience, shifting from mass vaccination sites to local healthcare provider offices can boost confidence and access in one. Vaccination rates by healthcare providers remain at all time high with 99% endorsements. Finally, positive dialogue should emphasize the personal and economic benefits of vaccination while reinforcing freedom of choice. They should not point fingers at politicians.
Vaccination is the safest path for America in its quest for herd immunity. Every citizen benefits from ending the pandemic.