Vaccine Messaging

I have been reading a lot recently how the US has bungled the messaging around vaccines, focusing too much on vaccines not being 100% effective and how you can’t change your behavior after receiving one, thus driving people to not get the vaccine because it sounds ineffective.

Here is an interesting NYT article (paywall) about it.

Here is a tweet thread from the author that basically explains the article:

For weeks, the public messages about vaccines have been more negative than the facts warrant.
Now we are seeing the cost: A large percentage of Americans wouldn’t take a vaccine if offered one.

  • About 1/3 of military troops who’ve been offered vaccine shots have declined.
  • When shots became available to Ohio nursing-home workers, 60% said no.
  • Among frontline workers in SoCal, the share was 40-50%.
  • N.B.A. stars are wary of doing public-services ads.

Nationwide, nearly half of Americans would refuse a shot if offered one immediately, polls suggest.
Vaccination skepticism is even higher among Black and Hispanic people, white people without a college degree, registered Republicans and lower-income households.

Why so much skepticism? Think about all of the negative things you’ve heard about the vaccines:

  • They aren’t 100% effective.
  • Vaccinated people may be contagious.
  • The virus variants may make everything worse.
  • Don’t change your behavior even if you get a shot.

The public messaging from many experts – and, yes, from us in the media – often makes the vaccines sound mediocre if not ineffectual. “Our messaging is bad, really bad,” says epidemiologist
“Our discussion about vaccines has been poor, really poor,”

I get that the negative messages often have a basis in truth. There are still uncertainties about the vaccines. And they won’t wipe this coronavirus off the face of the earth anytime soon.
But the negativity is fundamentally misleading – and causing real damage.

The evidence so far suggests that a full vaccine dose:

  1. effectively eliminates the risk of Covid death
  2. nearly eliminates the risk of hospitalization
  3. drastically reduces the ability to infect somebody else.
    All of that is also true about the virus variants.

What would be a more accurate message about vaccines? “They’re safe. They’re highly effective against serious disease. And the emerging evidence about infectiousness looks really good. If you have access to a vaccine and you’re eligible, you should get it.” -

The bottom line: The widespread negative public messaging about the vaccines is fundamentally misleading, and it’s damaging to public health.

There are also some charts and links in that thread.

David Leonhardt on Twitter: “For weeks, the public messages about vaccines have been more negative than the facts warrant. Now we are seeing the cost: A large percentage of Americans wouldn’t take a vaccine if offered one. :thread:…” / Twitter

Seems more like, “Some people are not smart enough to know any better.”

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If i ever manage to score a vaccine, i plan to change my behavior. I’ll still wear a mask in public. But I’ll shop more often, and probably visit friends again. (Wearing masks, but hanging out in their homes.)

I agree that the messaging had been bad, and that’s going to bite us in the long run.

(In the sort run, there’s not enough vaccine for those who want it, so it hasn’t been a big deal. But that’s going to catch up to us.)

Yes, that is true too.

I read something the other day (can’t find it) that the Euro messaging around the vaccine seems to be more of “Get the vaccine so you can hug your kids and grandkids again”. Which seems way more effective to me than the US version of “Get the vaccine, but you still need to wear a mask and stay away from people”.

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And hugging my mom is on the list of “stuff i plan to do when I’m vaccinated”. Also, visit her more often.

there has been a history to suggest the black distrust of the vaccine

But we all know if it was dangerous the black people would have gotten it first, whether they wanted it or not.

The black distrust is reasonable, given our unpleasant history. But being rational, it’s also fairly easy to overcome with data.

My mom currently has full time home assistance. That’s two women, a black woman and a white woman. When i told them they were eligible to get the vaccine, the white woman signed up, and the black woman said, “i don’t know… I’m not saying I’ll never get it, but i don’t want to do that now.” I suggested she discuss it with her doctor.

Then my mom and the white aid were vaccinated. And she called me up to ask for help getting an appointment, since the system sucks. She now has an appointment to be vaccinated.


I suspect a lot of people don’t want to be first. By the time vaccine becomes readily available, many of those people will feel comfortable getting it, i bet.


and like many things like access to easy voting or obtaining IDs, getting the vaccine is harder for lower economic people, which unfortunately is disproportionately minority

Vaccines come to Latino areas in NY, but the appointments are swooped up by middle class whites.

FL adds pop up centers in poorer counties, but only in two predominantly white, richer zip codes. People complain, “fine, we’ll do it in another county” - not we will bring it to the poor

The virus disproportionately affected minorities. Lower class workers actually need to go to work. Fewer can sit t home on a computer. Well guess what, those people who can’t sit at home on a computer have a much harder time registering when appointments come up, if they even have a computer.

As Lucy implied, I don’t know doesn’t mean no. It means let’s see the effects. Let’s see how easy it is to get without missing work. Let’s see how many hoops I have to jump through.

Or… They’ll see case rates dropping, deaths and hospitalizations dropping, restrictions eased, and think to themselves.“Ok, problem already solved. I don’t need to get vaccinated.”


Also, somebody in the twitter tread said we need to tie covid restrictions ending to getting vaccinated. I’m not sure that would work because I think a lot of the vaccine hesitant people already think covid is no big deal and are already ignoring covid restrictions.

I think it would be helpful if public health officials gave clear guidelines about what restrictions should be lifted due to vaccination, and which should be in place until community spread numbers are below some named threshold. People desperately want some hope for the future, and THAT’S REALISTIC and our leaders ought to be providing that.

My mom’s doctor told her that after she and her (mostly elderly) friends are vaccinated, he thinks she should still wear a mask, but thinks it would be safe for her and her friends to gather together indoors and socialize. That sort of statement from public officials would be helpful, imo.

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To dothemath’s point too many people are flouting the rules and believe those out eating out are the problem. Not that we won’t eat out until the numbers drop.

So instead of tying it to spread numbers, I would make a more tangible X% of the people in an area are vaccinated.

For sure. Conflicting, inconsistent, changing guidelines is definitely a big factor in lack of public trust. My state used to have a 4 phase reopening plan, with specific criteria to move from phase to phase. Then last November, the governor said “Ok guys, you’re all in phase 1 again, there is no more phase 3 and 4, the guidance for each phase is now different and the criteria for moving between phases has changed.” I mean, I follow COVID news pretty closely, but even I’m still confused.

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Even if the message is consistent it is ever changing

essential workers
now over 75
now over 65
now any age with health issues
great I qualify, but I still.havent been able to get my 85 to father an appointment. do.i grab what I can get? let me check with him.

too late all gone

Isn’t “ever changing” kinda, by definition, not consistent?

the plan order is consistent, but the introduction and rules still has everyone reacting

I took inconsistant meaning the rules change, not just rolling out

I also see an issue with the message of ‘still wear a mask since we cant prove vaccines really work’. This is just fear mongering and no one wanting to take accountability.

I would rather see the message: “we are all in this together, until we are all vaccinated. Wear a mask to show unity with those still waiting, but know you are safe”. people should see vaccination as a privilege instead of an entitlement.

continued mask wearing should be a social courtesy for those waiting for the vaccine. Data is coming in, shows that if you get your full vaccine there is very small risk of infection or transmission. Dont lie to scare people.

other small issue is letting people stop protocols based on vaccination is its difficult to track who actually got it. How many million idiots will just stop protocols and anytime they are ask they just lie and say they got it…


I have a friend who is smart and I respect a lot but has been posting on social media about how the vaccine is dumb because it doesn’t do anything and other posts being wary of the govt. Very unlike them but I think they feel beat to death about the messaging from the CDC lately. An article like this really does not help things in my opinion:

I am 100% getting the vaccine and hope everyone does. I wish there was more optimistic messaging out there though. I’ve seen ad campaigns in Europe that seem much more optimistic. It’s a tough balance because there still are risks after the vaccine but you don’t want to discourage people from getting it.