Urgency doesn’t make people feel reassured if they’re already worried about the speed at which the Covid vaccine has been developed. Here’s the vaccination message we should be focusing on. 

Opinion: We sure are at the hard stage of this pandemic journey. If this were The Hobbit, I think we would be lost in the caves with Gollum right now. As people across the upper north are doing their best in really tough conditions to keep Delta from spreading, things feel desperate.

That we have to adapt our approach is obvious but exactly how, not so much. One thing is clear – collective immunity gained from high levels of vaccination is needed to push Covid-19 out and help us get back to the people and the things we love.  

It’s going to be important to take a calm approach to vaccinations to ensure we create the right conditions for everyone to get vaccinated.

Staying cool, calm and collected about vaccinations

In this push for vaccination, in the middle of some lack of clarity, and at the end of everyone’s mental wellbeing in lockdown, it’s really important that the vaccination strategy doesn’t get infused with a sense of panic and people push vaccinations in an urgent and anxiety-causing way.

Why? Because, the research suggests, urgency doesn’t make people who need help over the line feel reassured or feel a sense of efficacy about vaccination – it makes them nervous. Any sense of urgency and panic about vaccination also risks losing a really important message while overemphasising an unhelpful one.

Urgency framing makes the vaccines themselves seem rushed

We know that some people who might not have yet acted on their intention to get vaccinated are hearing via the anti-vaccine movement that the vaccinations were rushed and are, therefore, not safe.

A huge effort has gone into explaining to people that the vast amount of creative energy, money and people power put into Covid-19 vaccines enabled us to do vaccine development much more efficiently than other vaccines we have developed to date (necessity being the mother of invention and all that), while still meeting all the conditions for safety and efficacy.

However, the idea of “too fast” is out there and being spun by people who deny vaccines. The too fast idea is creating that small pause for people who are not quite there yet in terms of getting over the vaccination line.

When such people hear officials and messages that are antsy and express extreme urgency it can, research from the US found, remind them of this nagging bit of false information about “too fast”. Having heard it was too fast, it now feels too fast. Ultimately, urgency is not something that makes people feel reassured if they’re already worried about urgency. 

There is a risk of normalising hesitations and vaccine denial

In addition, when people focus on the urgency of vaccination and the need to get people vaccinated as soon as possible we also do something else: we focus intensely on people who are not vaccinated. Talking constantly about the numbers who are not, and making a lot of assumptions (because humans do this) that people who are not vaccinated don’t want to get vaccinated, creates a strong narrative that many people are not getting vaccinated and vaccination scepticism is normal. This is certainly something I am observing. 

However, what we know is that 1) most people are getting vaccinated, with challenges for specific groups that were warned about and 2) most people will get vaccinated when we create the right conditions for them. Some people just haven’t got there yet for a number of surprisingly mundane (and predictable) reasons. Some people are busy, or find it hard to get one (because people in the health system did not focus on their needs); some people are scared of needles; some people haven’t seen people around them who they trust get vaccinated, and, yes, some people are being exposed to false information. Yet vaccination denial is not normal.

What is normal, here and around the world, is vaccination as a core public health tool that people use to stay healthy. So it is critical that we focus on that in the vaccination discussion. 

Vaccination is just the next thing we do to look out for each other in a pandemic

While it is tempting to treat vaccination as somehow unique or different from the other public health tools we have used to keep Covid-19 at bay, it is really just an extension of all the things we have done so far: lockdowns, face coverings, social distancing, border closures, contact tracing, and air quality improvements. We have used all these public health tools (some later than ideal), for our health and for the health of people around us. They worked, and now we adapt and we do the next thing.  

That is the vaccination story that we need to focus on. It will help people get over the line, show them that most people they trust are vaccinated or will get vaccinated. And while it’s totally cool to have questions or concerns, in the course of a conversation about vaccination these can be addressed by people trusted within their own communities. Of course this relies on people seeing and hearing from the people they trust, not just from central government figures. So now, all the attention and resources need to go into those communities they should have gone into to start with, so trusted leaders and experts can talk to their people about why vaccination is the next tool to maintain our health.

We have acted together to support each other up to now. We stay calm. We carry on doing just that.

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