xperts are divided as to whether it’s better to try to change anti-vaxxers’ minds about vaccines or to simply push them to get vaccinated anyway, without worrying about how they feel.
Foremost among the strategies researchers have devised to break through misgivings about vaccination is, essentially, scaring people into doing it. In 2015, Zachary Horne, a psychology professor at Arizona State University, divided 315 participants into three groups. The first group read a story about a child who contracted measles; looked at a picture of a child with measles, mumps, or rubella; and read warnings about the importance of vaccination. The second simply read statistics showing there is no link between vaccination and autism. The third read about an unrelated topic. The group exposed to the vivid anecdotes were more likely to change their attitude toward vaccines than the other two. Vaccine skeptics often tell frightening personal stories of injury; Horne did the same thing, but for diseases.
This approach might prove effective when it comes to the COVID-19 vaccine. Americans tend to be more interested in personal security than the collective good, so emphasizing how the virus could harm you, specifically, could drive people to vaccination, experts told me. Doctors could, for example, show skeptics grim pictures of intubated patients or damaged lungs. In a similar study that came out last year, vaccine-hesitant college students were assigned to interview people who had vaccine-preventable diseases, such as polio. Afterward, nearly 70 percent of them became pro-vaccine.