Last week, AEG Presents: Rocky Mountains, which produces concerts at the Ogden, Gothic, and Bluebird Theaters, as well as Fiddler’s Green and Ball Arena, announced that it would be requiring proof of vaccination for all concert-goers. While most bars and restaurants are resisting doing so, that list has been growing in recent days, too. That follows vaccination requirements for state and local government workers put in place by Governor Polis and Denver Mayor Hancock. (Governor Polis followed his lockdown playbook by instituting the vaccinate-or-get-tested requirement days after denying he was considering it.)
Ironically, decades of well-established research suggests that mandates will have the perverse effect of increasing suspicion and fears of vaccination rather than mitigating them. Even more ironically, we know this from a Centers for Disease Control (CDC) document from 2018 about how to keep public trust during an epidemic.
Table 12.1 on the CDC’s Field Epidemiology Manual shows the kinds of risks people are willing to accept, and those they are less likely to accept, and it’s based on research that has stood up since the late 1970s.
|Factors influencing risk perception|
|More acceptable risks are those perceived as||Less acceptable risks are those perceived as|
|Being voluntary or involving choice||Being imposed on the affected population or not allowing choice|
|Being under a person’s control||Being controlled by others|
|Having clear benefits||Having intangible or deferred benefits|
|Generated by a trusted source||Generated by an untrusted source|
|Being familiar||Being or seeming new or exotic|
|Affecting adults primarily||Affecting children primarily|
In this case, the risk involved isn’t the risk of COVID, or the latest iteration of the coronavirus. By now, after nearly two years of following the story, most people think – rightly or wrongly – that they basically understand that. It’s the risk of vaccination, which is what community leaders are trying to persuade them to do. And virtually every item on that list tilts toward the right side of the chart, when considered in the context of mandates.
Under the coercion of job loss or not being able to travel, or go to concerts, or eat out, or go to a bar, vaccination is clearly being imposed on people and not really under their own control. While the virus at this point is considered by most people to be ambient, even if it may have originated in a lab, the vaccine is man-made. The mRNA technology is newly-implemented and poorly-understood by most people, even those with advanced degrees. The greatest risks of COVID are among the elderly; the most publicized risks of the vaccines are blood clots among young men and women.
Surprisingly, the vaccine’s immediate benefits are also obscured both by research and by events. If you haven’t already had COVID, and if you’re not particularly at risk, it may seem like a better deal just to take your chances with the thing. And given the number of US citizens who have gotten it, studies from Israel, England, and the Cleveland Clinic strongly suggest only marginal benefit from vaccination. Epidemiologists understand that letting a virus circulate freely in a population gives it more time to mutate into something even more unpleasant, but even that seems like a vague threat to most people.
The net result is of all this is that increased vaccine pressure and mandates only make people more hesitant, in the context of an environment that tends to reinforce those biases in the first place.
If state and local government and business leaders want to increase vaccination rates, they should look to Mike Rowe of “Dirty Jobs” fame, rather than the coastal elites. Rowe recently took a lot of heat for a Facebook post where he declined to throw his weight behind vaccination – although he himself did take the shot when he became eligible. His response to his most vocal critic, Jonathan V. Last of The Bulwark, speaks directly to the CDC’s table quoted above:
“The issue at hand is how to persuade vaccine-hesitant Americans to reconsider their hesitancy. I propose we first acknowledge the reasons they distrust those in power and tell them the truth. You seem determined to dismiss their concerns and tell them their mistrust in our institutions is unjustified. With respect, I don’t think that’s going to work.”
He’s right. It won’t. But treating people with some level of respect by trying to understand them rather than browbeat, shame, and insult them just might.
Denver resident Joshua Sharf is a regular contributor to Complete Colorado.
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