by Irina Jiang
Image: DJ Paine / Unsplash
As COVID cases are trending down in Ontario, largely thanks to the mandatory vaccination policy to participate in activities, including restaurants, a new round of anti-vaccination protests has unfolded. It is intuitive for most people to get vaccinated to protect themselves from having the virus. However, even with statistical evidence showing the vaccines’ high efficacy, a 95% effective rate for Pfizer in preventing the transmission, for example, there is still a group of outrageous protestors demonstrating against vaccination. After Justin Trudeau’s brief visit at a restaurant in Newmarket in the Greater Toronto Area, he was met by a group of enthusiastic anti-vaccination protestors, ”screaming and chanting obscenities.” Getting support from these protestors is vital. The current full-vaccination rate in Canada is 71.09%, still falling about 20 percent behind the 90% necessary coverage suggested by Anthony Fauci, the chief medical adviser to the White House. These anti-vaccination protestors are almost never understood. They are instead believed to be prioritizing their liberties over public safety. Most efforts dedicated to convincing anti-vaccination protestors to get vaccinated are approached by emphasizing the importance of public health with staggering statistics or implementing mandatory vaccination policies. The root cause of vaccination reluctance, however, lies in trust.
A poll shows that 7% of Canadians are hesitant to be vaccinated. The root cause, and perhaps the most difficult problem to tackle in persuading the anti-vaccination protestors, is gaining their trust. Unlike the majority of the population who trust most statistics released by government entities and health organizations, the anti-vaccination protestors have a deep concern over the accuracy of government-released data, side effects of the vaccines, and a lack of transparency regarding how vaccines are made. According to Duenas and Mangen, both professors at the University of Concordia, the public tends to ignore authority-made suggestions and find their own information (or misinformation) when trust is absent. Based on a study done by the same authors, trust is formed by cognition (what we know) and emotion (what we feel). Therefore, building trust with anti-vaccination protestors needs to be addressed by both providing them with detailed information regarding their concerns and appealing to them emotionally.
Currently, our governments are ineffective in understanding anti-vaccination protesters and implementing appropriate incentives. For example, the vaccine lottery in Alberta fails to address the root cause of trust. It simply provides an incentive to get vaccinated, but those reluctant to take the vaccines are in need of more information regarding their effectiveness and the credibility of currently released statistics. Similarly, though Ontario’s dine-in policy is effective in reducing COVID-19 transmission rates, it “punishes” the anti-protesters by restricting their daily activities instead of showing any efforts to establish trust. According to a study conducted by Dr. Walkey at Boston University School of Medicine, comparing adult vaccination rate change in Ohio, and other states, without lottery incentives, the daily vaccination rate among adults did not show significant change. This indicates that to establish trust with anti-vaccination protesters, simply creating monetary incentives is inadequate.
There are plenty of ways to rebuild trust once the problem is identified, combining a more transparent information system with emotional understanding. For example, government entities could bring in third parties to demonstrate that their statistics are accurate. Vaccine companies could be more specific in regards to how the vaccines are made, why they are effective in preventing the spread of COVID-19, and what the common side effects are and why. Medical exemptions should be made to those eligible to show an understanding of everyone’s conditions while protecting public health. To appeal to the emotional side, the anti-vaccination protesters need to witness the real case struggles of those who are suffering from COVID-19. Witnessing real-life stories, feeling the pain and struggle of the patients and the desperation of their families are sometimes more powerful than plain statistics. Just as several countries are starting to put pictures of patients suffering from lung cancer on cigarette boxes to discourage smoking, vaccination centers or healthcare units can use graphic information in a similar way to stress the imperativeness of stopping COVID-19.
Stereotyping anti-vaccination protesters as ignorant or selfish is ignoring their needs and displaying apathy for their reasonings. For now, they are treated as kids reluctant to do their homework instead of informed adults. It is assumed that they will be convinced to get vaccinated with adequate incentives or punishments, if not doing so. These measurements would only harm the trust between the public and regulators. Their concerns are legitimate; in fact, searching for a solution would better our vaccination environment and benefit public health as a whole.