Pollster Frank Luntz convened a virtual focus group recently with “vaccine-hesitant Trump voters” intended to represent 30 million Republicans who say they don’t plan to get a coronavirus shot.
“Without these people, you’re not getting herd immunity,” Luntz told The Washington Post. By the end of the session, all 19 participants at the end said they were more likely to get vaccinated.
Doug Badger and Ed Haislmaier explain what changed in a piece circulated by the Chicago Tribune news syndicate, saying the key was providing accurate, honest information—not public health spin—about the vaccines’ possible risks and tradeoffs.
In “What it took for a group of Republicans to overcome their vaccine hesitancy,” they report, “One participant’s comment crystallized the key lesson from the two-hour exercise: ‘We want to be educated, not indoctrinated.’”
Appeals from top politicians, pharmacists, and medical researchers were unpersuasive. “What changed their minds had nothing to do with politics,” the two health policy experts report.
“The unlikely change agent was Dr. Tom Frieden, who headed the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention during the Obama administration,” they write. “Frieden appealed to facts, not his credentials. He noted that the theory behind the vaccine was backed by 20 years of research, that tens of thousands of people had participated in well-controlled clinical trials and that the overwhelming share of doctors have opted for the shots.
“He leavened those facts with an acknowledgment of uncertainty. He conceded that the vaccine’s potential long-term risks were unknown. He pointed out that the virus’s long-term effects were also uncertain.
“‘He’s just honest with us and telling us nothing is 100% here, people,’” one participant explained.
One can hardly wonder why the pronouncements of public health officials are unconvincing. The latest example: Oh, actually 3 feet of social distancing is just fine in classrooms, not the 6 feet they have been insisting on—causing tens of millions of schoolchildren to suffer immeasurably over the last year from shuttered schools, without the CDC citing a single classroom study supporting the 6-foot separation, Badger and Haislmaier report.
They conclude that it’s not that people are “anti-science.” Rather, “it’s that they don’t just blindly accept whatever they’re being told by ‘experts’ and government officials. They want to base decisions about their health on reliable information honestly presented, understanding that every option comes with a degree of uncertainty.”
In other words, treat people like adults capable of deciding for themselves when given accurate information and don’t try to push political or public health spin.