Shaming won't sway unvaccinated, but calling vaccinated Americans 'patriots' might

Painting the narrative that unvaccinated Americans are prolonging the COVID-19 pandemic may be ineffective. Instead, framing the narrative that vaccinated Americans are doing a great service to their country may be more incentivizing, according to an Aug. 8 USA Today report.

Nearly all (97 percent) of people hospitalized for COVID-19 in mid-July were unvaccinated, according to the CDC. Headlines, marketing campaigns and public officials have portrayed unvaccinated Americans as "selfish," "refusing to get the jab" and "arrogant," the report said. 

Public health experts said shaming the unvaccinated is unproductive and could backfire. Some Americans who are not vaccinated are anti-vaccine, but many of them have reasonable hesitations that can be addressed. Shaming these groups may only put a wedge between vaccinated and unvaccinated Americans.

"If you're going to call me an idiot … that isn't encouragement," Stephanie McClure, PhD, an assistant professor of biocultural medical anthropology at the Tuscaloosa-based University of Alabama said. "You usually don't get anywhere by attacking people."

Dr. McClure said unvaccinated Americans' concerns could be addressed if people took the time to listen to their concerns. Some fear the side effects, while others struggle with healthcare literacy.

Gleb Tsipursky, PhD, said putting the blame on unvaccinated people can make them defensive and want to lash out against authorities. All major demographics of unvaccinated people do not respond well to being told what to do, he said.

Instead, he suggests using positive language. Framing the vaccinated as patriots, doing their civic duty and protecting their families, could convince them to want to be vaccinated without feeling forced.


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