Viewpoint: Mocking the unvaccinated dead doesn't save anyone

The shame and contempt that shadows some discourse surrounding COVID-19 deaths among unvaccinated Americans isn't helping anyone, writes Elizabeth Bruenig of The Atlantic.

In the opinion piece, Ms. Bruenig writes that this method of persuasion — assuming the unvaccinated simply don't realize that COVID-19 can be fatal and they could use some frightening reminders — seems futile. The traditional methods of persuasion, where great value is placed on rhetoric that assumes listeners' basic goodwill, have been deemed useless, and lower forms — insults, scolding, intra-group memeing — seem to be all that's left, she writes. 

In contrast, good-faith persuasion is a matter of discipline and not something that comes naturally, according to Ms. Bruenig. It would require examining what the unvaccinated say about their hesitancy by inhabiting their point of view honestly and seriously.

"To persuade someone to do something, you have to present them with information that is persuasive to them, not strictly with information that's persuasive to you," Ms. Bruenig writes. 

Vaccinated individuals are already convinced that the vaccine significantly improves their odds of avoiding the worst of COVID-19 — the shot sells itself. Persuading someone with the same logic is only successful when talking to someone who would've already been persuaded in the first place.  

A recent Census Bureau Household Pulse Survey asked unvaccinated Americans about their reasons for putting off or refusing vaccination and allowed them to select multiple options. More than half of respondents listed potential side effects as a major concern. Nearly 40 percent said they don't trust the vaccines; a similar proportion want to wait and see whether they're safe. A third said they don't trust the government, while just less than a quarter don't believe they personally need a vaccine. After the 22 percent who aren't sure the vaccines are actually protective are another 17 percent who don't view COVID-19 as a major threat.

"What strikes me about the responses of the unvaccinated is that there does seem to be significant willingness to consider vaccination," Ms. Bruenig writes. "That means there's still openness — to the right kind of persuasion."

That requires talking with someone who's chosen not to be vaccinated, which is exactly what Ms. Bruenig did. She reached out to some of her unvaccinated family members, talking openly about ethical implications and safety concerns, noting that she wants her family to be alright. 

"And I believe — but cannot prove — that wanting that for someone is more persuasive, somehow, than the darker, harder political emotions that dominate our discourse now," she concluded.


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