Why some vaccine analogies fail + 3 that hit the mark 

Jackie Drees -

While analogies, metaphors and similes can be great tools to depict things like a virus or an infection, most of the wordplay linked to COVID-19 vaccines doesn't entirely convey the most accurate translations, The Atlantic reported Aug. 13. 

Analogies such as vaccines protect us "like umbrellas block out the rain" or "sunscreen keeps us from getting burns or cancers," are failing to explain the true benefits of vaccines. These analogies focus on individual benefits rather than "one of the greatest perks of immunization: a boost in wellness at the community level, by cutting down on transmission and, by extension, illness for everyone else," according to the report. 

Communal benefit, however, is more difficult to define, quantify and describe than individual protection because "it's not the way Americans are used to thinking about things," Neil Lewis, a behavioral scientist and communications expert at Cornell, told The Atlantic. Switching to a pandemic-oriented, population-based mindset is a big shift from the characteristics tied to health issues people in wealthy nations face, such as cancer, stroke and heart disease, he said. 

Platforms like Twitter are riddled with accusations that "remaining unvaccinated is akin to drunk driving, smoking or harming children," according to the report. However, these comparisons can backfire as "shaming of any kind just doesn't work," Cora Scott, director of public information and civic engagement for the city of Springfield, Mo., told the publication. She added that unvaccinated people may shut down and stop listening if they are painted as enemies. 

Analogies can misportray the unvaccinated, many of whom haven't been able to access their shots, are still ineligible or haven't been given accurate information about the vaccine and seriousness of the virus, according to the report. 

Here are three analogies for vaccines and infections that communication experts recommend: 

1. Ms. Scott said she favors this analogy: casting the spread of infection as fire, and humans as the kindling that the flames need to keep going. The analogy also lends itself to vaccines, with the shots acting as flame retardant that can stop fire on the move, while also shielding trees and vegetation from the worst of the burns. 

2. Another example: Vaccines are like stopping bugs with insecticides, given that stopping an infestation in one apartment decreases the chances it will spread next door. 

3. Michael D.L. Johnson, MD, PhD, an immunologist at the University of Arizona shared the following analogy: "installing a toilet in lieu of defecating in a bucket 'and smearing it over your front lawn.'" Using a toilet would keep your neighbors happy and avoid potential serious illness. 

 

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