Comedian John Oliver has been hosting a weekly show on HBO called Last Week Tonight for a few years now. Most of each episode is also freely available on YouTube.
In a recent episode, John Oliver discussed the issue of vaccine hesitancy in the United States.
At 21:30, John Oliver specifically began discussing two problems:
- In order to achieve the herd immunity threshold for COVID-19 (currently estimated to be between 70% to 90% of the population), we need everyone who can get a vaccine to get one.
- Research has shown that the vaccine hesitant generally do not listen to politicians or celebrities, or carefully laid out statistic-backed arguments.
He goes on to argue that the best person to convince the vaccine-hesitant in your life to get a vaccine is you.
However, there’s another piece to this puzzle that I don’t think Mr. Oliver examined. (Or, if his research team did, it probably doesn’t fit the format of his usual weekly television show, and therefore they didn’t employ it.)
For completeness, the research currently indicates that anecdotes are largely filtered out by professionals and more technical people… but we’re also less likely to be vaccine-hesitant in the first place.
While it’s true that vaccine-hesitancy can be best handled by their close friends and family members, I believe it’s worth trying to address this problem within our communities by openly sharing our own stories for why we chose to be vaccinated against COVID-19.
After all, there is a stark difference between “some celebrity/politician barking orders politely from their ivory tower” and “someone in my community sharing why they made their decision”.
To that end, I’d also like to propose a single hashtag for sharing these stories together:
I received the Johnson & Johnson single-dose COVID-19 vaccine on April 9, 2021, and thus was fully vaccinated two weeks later on April 23, 2021. There are several reasons why I chose to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, but I’d like to share three.
First, I’m well aware of the risks involved. To discern the truth, I’ve largely ignored the media and the U.S. government since the pandemic began. Instead, I’ve focused my attention on the facts and analyses shared by scientists that specialize in microbiology, viruses, and the immune system.
On that note: An excellent person to follow on Twitter is Chise, one of the scientists that worked on the Moderna vaccine and a constant source of high-quality facts about COVID-19 and the vaccines.
Second, as a gay man, I’m acutely aware of the long-term damage of public health crises: The HIV/AIDS epidemic devastated our community in the 1980’s and 1990’s.
The third reason I chose to get vaccinated against COVID-19 is that I care a lot about the people in my life, and I never want anything bad to happen to any of them. I don’t know how I’d be able to live with myself if I caught COVID-19 and spread it to any of them, and they got sick or died. Being vaccinated means knowing that, while sickness and death can strike at any moment, I won’t have to live with the painful regret of having a loved one’s blood on my hands for the rest of my life.
The COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective, and allow me to live more comfortably than if I hadn’t been vaccinated.
Tell Your Story Too
What I wrote above is only a start. If we want to combat the vaccine hesitancy and outright misinformation that has been floating around on social media and FOX news, we need to tell our stories.
I don’t care if your reason is, “I want to safely get together with a bunch of murrsuiters and bareback each other until sunrise, then hold hands and drink coffee in our hotel room.” More power to you.
A lack of empathy exacerbated this pandemic, and a little bit of empathy might very well help us accelerate its conclusion.
Addressing the Vaccine-Hesitant
“Healthy People Don’t Need the Vaccine”
It’s important to remember that the point of the vaccine isn’t just to protect yourself, but everyone you come into contact with. None of us can visually diagnose most medical conditions in strangers, coworkers, and friends. You don’t know who will die if you pass COVID-19 onto them.
“Most People Recover from COVID-19”
Yet over 670,000 Americans have died from COVID-19, including people in our community. This is not a trivial number of people.
“What About Natural Immunity?”
Vaccines teach your very natural antibodies how to fight the real virus. Vaccine immunity is natural. If you’re worried about vaccines being unnatural, that’s because someone framed it wrong or even outright lied to you.
What people mean when they talk about “natural immunity” is simply “without vaccines”. And you should be aware that COVID-19 has a lot of sneaky tricks for evading your immune system’s response, by suppressing the signals infected cells generate. The vaccines just tell your body what to look for without such trickery.
“People Should Make Their Own Decision”
We live in a very connected society. One person’s actions can have consequences that extend far beyond them.
The very notions of Rights and Freedom only have any meaningful sense within a society.
Didn’t your parents teach you that Rights also carry Responsibilities?
The government may have a long history of letting us down, but right now they’re focusing their disappointment on foreign policy decisions and passing voter suppression laws. The vaccine is safe, effective, and freely available in the United States. Doing your part may save the life of someone you love.