Combating vaccine resistance and conspiracy theories

Combating vaccine resistance and conspiracy theories

They would climb from floor to floor and knock on every door. But when they stated their identity and the purpose behind their visit, some people refused to open their doors. “I will not get vaccinated,” people shouted from inside their apartments, some declared that contracting Covid-19, or even dying because of it, would be God’s will.

Last May, New York health officials launched a very tricky mission: a coronavirus vaccination persuasion initiative targeting skeptics. The pandemic had swept the city. During the first wave, refrigerated shipping containers were parked outside hospitals to store the bodies of people who lost their lives to Covid-19. Coronavirus wards were set up even inside tents in the heart of Manhattan. And, yet, mistrust was still strong.

By May 2021, about 59 percent of the New York population had received at least one dose of the coronavirus vaccine. City authorities however said that the rate was not high enough. In low-income neighborhoods, where people already suffered poor access to public health, the percentage of the vaccinated population was considerably lower. Authorities decided to launch a door-to-door initiative on top of the public awareness and advertising campaigns which had already been broadcast with the aim of fighting the conspiracy theories about the inoculations.

Greece is now mulling a more targeted and localized persuasion campaign. In small villages and communities, individuals have in some cases already undertaken that role. In others, meanwhile, local officials, such as church leaders, have been the driving force behind the spread of unscientific views.

Can a campaign of this kind, targeted as it may be, get results? Even if there was a way to send an infectious disease specialist to every home, would it be enough to change the way some people think?

To be sure, skepticism comes in different shades. Not everyone is a diehard denier. There are also people who have been confused by the communication errors in dealing with the vaccines, in Europe as well as the US. There are also people that lack critical thinking who simply rehash any seed of skepticism they come across on the web. I am not sure who or how many exactly can be convinced by such a campaign when even the death of their fellow citizens is not enough to shake the “absolute truth” for some. 

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