In last week’s column, Greg Kesich asked how skeptics might be successfully convinced to get vaccinated for COVID-19, mentioning an Associated Press poll that indicated that half of the respondents were on board with getting the shots, a quarter were flat-out nos and the final 25 percent were concerned about the safety of the vaccine. Resources would be best spent appealing to the quarter of those who are reluctant.

Promoting prosocial behavior in an instant-gratification, what’s-in-it-for-me society in which the desired behavior (vaccination) is not clearly observable (such as wearing a mask) is no easy task. Should an irrefutable rational case be made to the noncommittal? While we have sizable brains, emotion tends to trump reason. In a contest between the prefrontal cortex and the limbic system, it would be advisable to put one’s money on the latter. So, the most effective approach to attain herd immunity would be to capitalize on herd mentality.

Here are a few modest suggestions.

• To make obtaining the vaccination more visible, enlist graphic artists to come up with a logo for vaccination, maybe something along the lines of the “V for Victory” symbol from World War II, and put the best entries on all sorts of swag (magnetic bumper stickers, T-shirts, armbands, flags, hats), distributing the items at the time of vaccination.

• Maybe posters depicting modern versions of Rosie the Riveter (“We Can Do It!”) and Uncle Sam (“I Want You!”) rolling up their sleeves would inspire patriotic compliance.

• Enlist advertising firms to devise catchy slogans (“Got the Shot?”).


• Because we live in an age of widely diffused media, there isn’t a finite set of major figures who can sway the majority through words or example, such as Elvis getting a polio shot. (On a side note: If COVID were more of a threat to the youngest, not the oldest, among us, lines for vaccination would be around the block as they were in the 1950s.) So, might a 2020 solution be a celebrity shotgun approach? Have a wide range of public figures, religious leaders, professional athletes, TV and movie personalities and social media influencers post personal messages of support for vaccination. Hold virtual Present at the Vaccination events at which celebrities endorse vaccination but do not, themselves, jump the line. They could virtually applaud first responders and show respect for the elderly and vulnerable essential workers. Demographic diversity among the public figures would ensure that all communities see someone like themselves. There is good historical reason for Black Americans to be wary – see the Tuskegee Study and the story of Henrietta Lacks.

• To promote what is known as the “bandwagon effect,” as public service announcements, news organizations could shoot and show footage of lines of folks awaiting to get their vaccine shot.

• Once 50 percent of folks in a ZIP code have been vaccinated, send out postcards to the entire area announcing this achievement (include an illustrative pie chart).

• Make vaccination as accessible as possible. Devise an automatic opt-in schedule: “Your shot is here – we are ready for you at this time and at this location.”

With some media successfully selling alternative facts because they fit with and metastasize a pre-existing condition of grievance, maintaining an essential ingredient of social cohesion, a shared reality, has been difficult. But should it be really so tough for the vast majority to be on the same page during a universal health crisis?

During the early stages of the pandemic, a prevailing dismissive question was, do you know anyone who got it, died from it? Now, with more than 300,000 fatalities many can now say “yes,” and even more will be able to do so by March 21. Are our imaginations so limited that something has to become immediately personal to be real, and only body bags and time will move public opinion?

Those who truly want to make the United States of America, if not great, at least better, must remember that collective self-government is predicated on individual self-government. If you want better, you have to be better. A “more perfect union” starts with “we.”

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