Sunday, August 8, 2021

Antivax Memes

 Based on various sources, including the recent NY Times podcast with interviews of vaccine resisters/hesitants, here’s my list of common elements.

1. Assuming the sole criterion for whether to take the vaccine is its effect on your own health—not taking into account whether you may infect someone else.  Antivax people nearly always justify their choice in terms of their perceived risk of getting Covid and the personal risk posed by the vaccine and not in terms of the vaccine’s potential role (or lack of it) in reducing the extent and duration of the pandemic.

2. Bodily violation: resistance to accepting a foreign substance into their body.  Also resistant to pressure from others, such as employers and government, to allow this substance to cross the “skin line”.

3. Personal responsibility for health.  Some antivax people think that how sick you get from Covid depends on your general state of health, itself perhaps the result of the measures you’ve taken to protect it.  If you stick to what you think is a healthy diet, if you work out, or if you just think you just have “good genes”, you do not think you are at risk and need to vaccinate against it.  Some strands of alternative health are strongly invested in the view that there is no randomness to disease: if you get sick it’s because you failed to cleanse, build up your immune system, tune your energy or otherwise do what you should have done.  Conversely, if you’ve followed the program you’re not at risk and don’t have to vaccinate.

4. Apparent inability to think probabilistically.  A common remark is that you can get Covid even if you’re vaccinated, so what’s the point?  Risk is perceived in binary terms: it exists or it doesn’t.

5. Fatalism.  Whatever happens happens.  There’s no point to getting vaccinated; you’ll get sick and die sooner or later anyway.

6. Distrust.  These are experimental vaccines that haven’t been approved by the FDA yet.  And even when the FDA says it’s OK, who believes them?  The government and the media lie with abandon.  The vaccines are also being pushed by corporations that just want to make as much money as they can.

Efforts to persuade people to drop their resistance to the vaccines need to begin by listening to them and communicating with them where they are.


Dan Crawford said...

Kevin MD might have a relevant article.

Peter Dorman said...

Thanks, Dan. I definitely agree that the first step is listening, although I would prefer to be more analytical about it than the HEAR people. What I got from the example they gave is that the vaccine resistor (a) thinks only in terms of the cost-benefit ratio for herself and not the effects on others, (b) has a body possession orientation (don't put that in my body!) and (c) distrusts the broad swath of professionals who have given their seal of approval on the vaccine. If I were to spend some time with her, I would think of questions or situations that problematized these priors.

What might trouble me about HEAR is that, although it begins with listening, it isn't clear that what the person says actually effects the script the outreach person follows. I mean, I could say, no I won't take the vaccine because it turns people into vampires and the rest of the script would stay pretty much the same.

Jerry Brown said...

I would add to your list phobias about needles and doctors in general.
I have a good friend I've talked to a number of times about this and that was his first excuse. Second was he says he hardly ever gets sick. Third was he wears his mask anytime he goes to a public space so what's the difference. But I think it is mostly the first reason.

There's just no chance I can convince him to get vaccinated. If he does get vaccinated it is going to be because society decides to make it very difficult to remain unvaccinated. It isn't because people have not talked to him or have not explained vaccines and reasons to get vaccinated to him.

Peter Dorman said...

I do hear this a lot, Jerry: I'm afraid of needles, and I don't need a shot badly enough. The needle phobia lends energy to every other doubt. As for the phobia itself, I think it has two aspects. One is the body barrier thing I referred to in the OP -- the fear of anything "foreign" entering the body. Our culture generally reinforces the notion that we are fully enclosed by our skin, with a thick line between inside and outside. (The virus obviously doesn't agree.) The other is the needle itself, sharp and momentarily painful. I think that runs against the culture, since most people would see it as cowardly. Maybe there's a third aspect, the one you mention about interfacing with the medical system, which could be associated with sickness, suffering and death. But the vaccines are offered in drug stores, so I'm not sure that works.

Jerry Brown said...

I don't think I am disagreeing with you Peter. Although I guess I am saying that a certain percentage of people will not be coaxed into getting the shot. I wish this wasn't so, but if it turns out that for reasons of public safety a higher percentage need to be vaccinated, it is my feeling that some coercion would need to be involved. If it was important enough to get to that higher percentage, which I'm not sure about in the first place. But for sure, talking to them first would be the best option.

Sandwichman said...

You left out 7. The Totalitarian Menace. That one goes way beyond mere mistrust to project that Covid is a hoax and anti-Covid measures are all a liberal/globalist plot to enslave the population. I read it as a projection of their own unresolved infantile dominance fantasies.

Peter Dorman said...

S-man: Agreed. I had thought to fold all the right wing tribal stuff into "distrust", but of course it has more content than that. The idea that our "freedom" is on the verge of being taken away from us is a major factor. I have no idea how a reasonable person can engage with this.

Sandwichman said...

Question I have is why would a reasonable person even want to engage with it?

Peter Dorman said...

Answer: (a) Because we are a we when it comes to the virus. (b) I may be influenced by my years as a teacher. You can't control what students bring into the classroom, but you can adapt your teaching to be more effective. It becomes an automatic response: how do I reach this person where they're at?

As for the right wing thing, I might try asking whether they think disease can limit one's "freedom". Maybe not start with corona but TB to take current politics out of it. Are you less free if you are hit with a serious illness? Are you less free if you have to forego a lot of what you otherwise would want to do in order to not get sick? Go down that line.