How FOMO became the latest weapon against vaccine hesitancy

Understanding the psychological phenomenon known as FOMO — an acronym for "fear of missing out" — could be key to raising the country's COVID-19 vaccination rates, according to Patrick McGinnis, a venture capitalist who coined the term while he was a student at Harvard Business School in Boston.

In an Aug. 16 column published in NBC News, Mr. McGinnis defined FOMO as "an anxiety, often fueled by social media, that others are having more rewarding experiences than you." He also described it as the "emotional equivalent of picking teams back in elementary school gym class."

Mr. McGinnis wrote that the human desire to feel part of the group and be in the know is innate, dating back to hunter-gatherer societies in which people needed to be included in order to survive.

New York City's recent announcement that it will require proof of COVID-19 vaccination to enter restaurants, gyms, indoor performances and other aspects of public life is the best example of an American government using FOMO to combat vaccine hesitancy. In an Aug. 3 news conference announcing the Key to NYC Pass program, Mayor Bill de Blasio warned of the FOMO many unvaccinated New Yorkers and visitors might feel.

"This is a miraculous place literally full of wonders, and if you’re vaccinated, all that’s going to open up to you. You’ll have the key. You can open the door," he said. "But if you’re unvaccinated, unfortunately you will not be able to participate in many things."

Anthony Fauci, MD, the White House chief medical adviser, said there will be a "flood" of COVID-19 vaccine mandates once the FDA grants full approval to a COVID-19 vaccine, a decision that could come by the end of August. If his prediction comes to fruition, it will likely cause a flood of FOMO among unvaccinated Americans as they are excluded from aspects of public life in other cities, creating a collective feeling to which healthcare communication professionals can appeal.


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