If our sense of danger—or lack thereof—is behind the Great Vaccine Decline, then maybe there’s a fix. Should we try to make the holdouts more afraid?
Scared Straight programs for vaccines have been tried before, and they haven’t done much good. Studies tend to find that pointing to the dangers of disease will certainly freak some people out—but that feeling is short-lived and doesn’t seem to change behavior. “They found small increases in perceived risk but no increases in vaccine uptake,” Brewer said. “On balance, it’s not going to work.”
It’s also possible that some people who are disinclined to get their COVID-19 shots might not be wrong, per se, in their assessment of their own, relative risk of dying from the disease, even if they’re neglecting the bigger picture. Young people really are hundreds of times less vulnerable than seniors, and Republicans are, on average, a lot more realistic than Democrats about a person’s chances of developing severe disease once they’ve been infected by the coronavirus. (At the same time, they’re much less realistic about COVID-19’s harms in aggregate.) In other words, efforts to scare more young people or Republicans into getting vaccinated could end up encouraging them to be less informed about the facts, at least narrowly construed, instead of more so.