What individuals can do to help beat the coronavirus anti-vaxxers

The problem: We need to get 80 per cent of the population vaccinated. But in a recent poll only 45 per cent of the population say they are certain to get the vaccination (just 35 per cent of those aged 35–44) with 18 per cent saying they definitely or probably would not.

The first two blogs in this series covered some thoughts on designing the programme to maximise take-up, and the communications campaign the NHS needs to run to get mass vaccination.

This blog is about what individuals can do to support and drive vaccine take-up. Here are five pointers.

  1. Tell others you got vaccinated

You are most influential on your family and friends. So tell them that you have decided to get yourself vaccinated. Tell them that you sat down with your partner, children and other family members and talked it through. Offer to talk about it with them. Open the conversation. Share publicly that you are going to get vaccinated. Share that you have got vaccinated.

If you can — share a pic of you or of your vaccinated family. This matters: people need to see people like them getting vaccinated. When the vaccine rolls out we need to cover social media in pictures of people who got vaccinated from every background, all ages and ethnicities, from all parts of the country. The mantra is #WeVaccinate. Think about how to create connection with others about vaccination — perhaps linking it to the place you live, your religious community, the fandom you are part of, the football team you support, the languages you speak.

If you are a leader in your community, wear your leadership role. Share your decision to vaccinate, use your position to encourage others. Display or share verified information about vaccination.

Link your vaccination decision to the way you live your life — what you enjoy doing, and the freedoms you have because you got vaccinated.

Your core message is this: people like me — people like us — get vaccinated. It’s normal, it’s part of loving your family and friends and community. You can be part of embedding the social norm that getting vaccinated is just what you do. Sharing your decision is the most important thing you can do to encourage others.

2. Share verified info

Share verified information about vaccination, from the NHS. Link repeatedly to the main NHS site. This isn’t a moment to look for a variety of sources. Help family and friends find information on the main NHS site. Share and amplify pro-vaccination content that understands how people make decisions about their health.

Don’t share unverified info. Don’t share well-meaning but irrelevant information (eg international pro-vaccination information which may have different target groups or rollout criteria). It should go without saying, but don’t share anti-vaccination content (even if you append your own comments) as that widens the audience for it. I still see well-meaning people quote-retweeting things they disagree with, believing their well-meaning words across the top will undermine the message. It doesn’t: instead it tells the social media algorithm that the original post is interesting and should be shown to more people. Don’t inadvertently spread anti-vaccination information with your QTs.

3. Stop arguing

The aim of this campaign is to help make sure 80 per cent plus get vaccinated. If you want to help, think what you are doing when you talk to others about vaccination. The aim isn’t for you to win an argument with someone who is unconvinced — it’s for that person to get vaccinated.

So, if you are in conversation with someone who is hesitant or worried, you have an immense moment of power in your hands. Make the most of it — and help push them towards getting vaccinated.

For starters, don’t insult them. You won’t persuade anyone of anything by calling them stupid.

Stop arguing. Create a connection with them, perhaps through shared interests or things you have in common. Ask them open-ended questions and listen to their concerns. Validate the big worries that we all share — wanting to make the best choices about our health, looking after our family and community, getting back to normal.

Share verified info from the NHS that is relevant to them, and encourage them to look at verified sources themselves. Gently discourage away from unverified sources. Don’t engage in heavy-handed factchecking or mythbusting: supplying corrective information doesn’t change views, and has been shown to discourage people from getting vaccinated.

If it’s relevant and you feel comfortable, share your own good experience of vaccination, and what was important to you in making that decision. And be kind and reassuring: it is understandable to feel nervous, in the middle of a pandemic, about a new initiative.

This approach works in person and on social media. Perhaps others have already made the same points — no matter. We are embedding a social norm here. Even if all you can do is add that you chose to vaccinate too, there is an impact to hearing more voices or seeing a mass of reassuring comments reinforcing that vaccination is something everyone does.

4. Report don’t engage

The advice above is for when you are dealing with a friend, fellow group member or ordinary member of the public with doubts and worries. This approach doesn’t apply if you are dealing with a committed anti-vaccination propagandist. In that case, don’t waste your time. Leave the conversation, and seek ways to remove their ability to spread disinformation and doubt. That may mean reporting them to social media networks, raising with social media group admins, raising your concerns with community group leadership about their role or platform. Cut off their oxygen, take away their audience.

5. Demand accountability and action

Getting to 80 per cent vaccination isn’t just about changing individuals’ behaviour. It’s about creating the structures, environment and social norms that make the decision to vaccinate easy and obvious. And for that we need our institutions to step up.

So let’s demand government are better. We need a programme to get 80 per cent of the population vaccinated: so let’s demand inclusive design rooted in the diverse communities of the UK that means it reaches everyone as quickly as possible. If you find ways to improve the programme, raise them with your elected officials. Join campaigns seeking to make the vaccination programme quicker or more effective or more inclusive of under-served groups. Seek leadership, transparency and accountability about the programme from governments at all levels.

And it’s not just governments that must exercise their leadership role. We need leadership from the print and broadcast media and from social media networks about the way they platform (or not) anti-vaccination views. Make it clear to the media outlets you consume that you expect them to support widespread vaccination, and write in or call in when anti-vaccination views are aired.

We need to embed a social norm that everyone gets vaccinated — and companies and brands must play their part. So demand action to facilitate and support vaccination from everyone that you buy from or support. Raise the issue in community groups and wherever you can — and ask your religious, cultural, professional and community leaders to step up. In your union, bargain for paid time off from your employer to get vaccinated.

And on top of this: don’t feed mistrust. It’s easy to be cynical, and the pandemic has provided ample opportunity. Governments don’t live up to their values, scientists disagree with one another, decisions are slow or rushed or don’t come at all.

But feeding mistrust has real consequences in terms of people’s willingness to act in a pro-social way. So even as you express your own views about the motivations of the politicians we have in power, differentiate that from issues of settled science and policy that span people of all opinions — such as whether to get vaccinated.

This is particularly important for my tribe — the left — for whom the temptation is always to dismiss the actions of a Conservative health secretary as badly intentioned. Of course scrutinise, of course oppose when things are wrong. Just don’t do so in a way that undermines public trust in all government per se and in government’s power to support their citizens. Conspiracist thinking and “they’re all the same” is an easy way to reduce social solidarity — and that will suppress demand for vaccination.

Conclusion

If you take nothing else from what I have said, take this: you have the power to start embedding the social norm that we all vaccinate. That will help us get out of this pandemic and back to normal faster. Use your power.

I’m neither a scientist, a medic nor a health promotion professional. What I am is a campaigner who desperately wants the potential of a coronavirus vaccine to be realised. I make no claims to expertise — and would love to read others’ thoughts on how we get this done.

Part 1 — the programme we need

Part 2 — the campaign we need

TUC head of campaigns & comms. South-east Londoner.