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How to maximize vaccine acceptance?

When will the United States return to pre-pandemic habits of life? The obvious answer is when the country achieves herd immunity. There are some truly stupid Republicans, including the president of the United States, who think that this will happen once everyone contracts covid-19. As per usual, however, the president’s math is a bit off:

Trump said it is “terrific” that 15 percent of the population has been infected with COVID (we were at 11.7% as of Nov. 28, per CDC). He meant that as a suggestion we’re getting towards herd immunity, which would be around 70%. So, clearly, not close and very much not terrific.

Clearly, the better and safer way to get to herd immunity is through vaccination. In all likelihood, the Food and Drug Administration will soon approve emergency-use authorization of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines for the novel coronavirus. States are already releasing plans for who would be vaccinated and when. While there appears to have been some hiccups in procuring the necessary amount of doses, it is likely that there will be widespread availability of vaccines by spring 2021.

This gives rise to an important question, however: How can authorities ensure that as many Americans get inoculated as possible?

As previously noted in this space, the timing of these announcements seems fortuitous for ensuring that political partisans from both sides would have a vested interest in taking the vaccines once they are available. And as more data comes in, the numbers about the success of the vaccines seem awfully encouraging:

There are some issues, however. One problem is side effects. It has been widely reported that these are temporary, but no one can be thrilled at the prospect of “fatigue, headaches, and pain at the injection site.” Furthermore, since both Moderna and Pfizer require two injections three weeks apart, it will be critical to make sure recipients are diligent about receiving their second shot.

Polling also shows some demographic pockets of resistance about getting vaccinated that go far beyond the normal anti-vaccination idiocy. Unsurprisingly, some Republicans are following the lead of President Trump and expressing doubt about taking a vaccine that will inevitably come when Joe Biden is president. At the same time, there are long-standing suspicions of vaccines from minority populations in the United States as well. This is particularly concerning given the disproportionate health effects that the coronavirus is wreaking on the African American population.

With all that said, however, there are reasons to think that these barriers can be surmounted. Step 1, of course, is to interview as many inoculated Brits as humanly possible and let the natural Anglophilia possessed by most Americans work its magic:

The next step is to make the slow-motion rollout of the vaccine work in everyone’s favor by generating more widespread acceptance. One recent poll of Massachusetts residents, for example, revealed that the single-biggest concern about the coronavirus vaccines were that they have not been sufficiently tested (though, to be fair, U.S. regulators have been pretty stringent on this front). The poll also revealed that 38 percent of White residents wanted the vaccines “as soon as possible,” compared with 28 percent of Black residents and 22 percent of Latinos.

This suggests that minority populations in particular are more likely to take one of the vaccines once they know that others have taken it. Part of this acceptance will happen naturally — once health-care professionals are inoculated, doctors will be able to offer firsthand testimonials to their patients about the safety of the vaccines.

The other obvious way to instill trust and confidence in the vaccines is through marketing. There are examples of the federal government successfully marketing important health messages to its citizens. Antismoking campaigns would be one example; the CDC relying on zombies to stress emergency preparedness would be another.

In this instance, the lowest-hanging fruit would be to select high-profile individuals to be part of the first wave of inoculations. There has already been reporting that former presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama will be vaccinated live on television.

That is a good first step, but authorities can go further. Anthony S. Fauci is widely viewed as a trusted source of information about the vaccines. He plans on being inoculated. If he gets it on television, that should help.

Here, off the top of my head, are 10 other prominent individuals who have not already contracted covid-19. If they get vaccinated in view of the public, it should resonate with the segments of the population most suspicious of the vaccines:

    Dolly Parton
    Vice President Pence
    Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson
    Sean Hannity
    Jennifer Lopez
    Clint Eastwood
    Oprah Winfrey
    LeBron James

I am (mostly) kidding on that last name. But you get the idea.

The hard-working staff here at Spoiler Alerts often talks about intractable or structural problems facing the United States. The good news about the vaccination question is that this is a problem where policy interventions can make a huge difference. Hopefully, six months from now, we can all talk about what a great job federal, state and local authorities did in getting the United States to herd immunity.

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