Having gotten our second vaccinations, and then waiting two weeks, my wife and I, for the first time in a year, went out to lunch. We wore our masks, sat outside, and breathed a sigh of relief. While it was tempting to conclude our COVID ordeal was over, it would have been a mistake to have done so. Our society, and the world, is in a desperate race between herd immunity and virus mutations, which we could very well lose.
Our approach to stopping the virus has become herd immunity. This kind of immunity, which stops the disease from spreading, occurs when a population is immunized either through vaccination or previous infection. Allowing the virus to randomly spread is not an option. That approach leads to more sickness, death, and dangerously overcrowded hospitals. Vaccinations, along with masking and social distancing, are the only options. We have never achieved herd immunity through a natural disease process. Infectious diseases, like measles, polio, and smallpox, all required vaccinations to reach immunity.
Viruses, as a natural part of their lifecycles, mutate into variants, often more virulent and deadly than the original. That is now occurring in the U.S. with variants like B.1.1.7 circulating throughout the country. What is so alarming is that the virus has an ally in the anti-vaxxer movement.
Despite millions of us have been safely vaccinated, a recent NPR/Marist poll found that one in four Americans say they will refuse a vaccine, with another 5 percent saying they are undecided. This includes 43 percent of Republicans, 30 percent of independents, and 10 percent of Democrats. Moreover, there is an entire online industry, reaching some 59 million people, promoting false information about the COVID vaccines. It claims they cause premature death and infertility, and that they alter genetic makeup. And, the news that Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccinations have been paused due to blood clotting in women ages 18-48 will only add fuel to the anti-vaxxer propaganda; despite the fact that the clotting occurred in only six women, out of more than 6.8 million doses (less than one in a million), and has been shown to be 100 percent effective in preventing COVID hospitalizations and deaths.
To win our race with the COVID-19, virus research says we have to vaccinate between 80 percent and 85 percent of the population to reach herd immunity. The U.S. population is about 330 million people. As of this writing, 89,760,000 of us have been fully vaccinated. Using 89 million, and assuming 80 percent of us vaccinated to reach immunity, roughly 195 million more Americans have to receive shots to reach immunity.
The Biden administration has announced the development of a campaign to counter people’s fears and skepticisms about COVID vaccinations. It will target young people, people of color, and conservatives. This cannot just be a PR campaign which says the vaccines are safe. It has to point out that the reason to get vaccinated is not just to protect one’s self, but to protect others from becoming infected; thereby stopping the pandemic.
Propaganda creates its own facts, and repeats them ad nauseam, allowing susceptible people to absorb them. The vaccination campaign has to point this out, present the actual facts (millions of us having been safely vaccinated), and be repeated ad nauseam. It also has to involve all of the creative techniques usually associated with successful ad campaigns. Spokespersons familiar to skeptical communities have to be enlisted. Clever advertising has to be used.
Obviously, I’m not an advertising expert. I am, however, clear that advertising works. For example, Centers for Disease Control reports its Tips campaign resulted in 400,000 smokers quitting in a six-month period. Clearly, the Biden administration has the clout and contacts to enlist the best of both the ad and celebrity industries to create an effective impactful advertising pro vaccination campaign.
Current COVID-19 predictions in the U.S., as of this writing, are 588,000 deaths by May 1. Worldwide, more than 3 million people have been killed by the virus. We have no choice. We must engage in a campaign which acknowledges that while some people are hesitant to be vaccinated, it is the only way we can win the war against the novel coronavirus.