On May 19, 2021, New York lifted its mask mandate, with more than 60% of adults receiving their vaccination. Considering the apparent success and abundant supply, why are 30 to 40% of adults still unvaccinated?
At Psynet Group, we believe elected officials could borrow some of the techniques from influential leaders to convince the hesitant to get their shots.
Before every vaccinated person decided to get their shot, they had to overcome five mental obstacles.
Rejection of the Messenger
People are wired to resist others’ attempts to control their behavior. In the US, the Founding Fathers granted citizens the second amendment to protect themselves against a tyrannical government. Schools and political organizations taught most Americans to be wary of the government’s attempts to control our lives and many of us were raised on George Orwell (i.e., 1984, Animal Farm). This mistrust was compounded recently by new levels of misinformation as sources like the Washington Post and The Independent (UK) identified more than 30,000 lies or misleading statements from the previous American president.
To overcome rejection of the messenger, people (especially the vaccine-hesitant) must believe the government shares their goals, especially when it comes to beating the pandemic.
Indifference to the Message
People do not care if something works until they have an emotional connection to its success. This challenge is where the efforts to convince others to take the vaccine failed in March and April 2021. Getting a shot led to no tangible benefits for most people. The promise of a decreased likelihood of catching a disease that many under 70 felt would not impact them was vague at best. They still had to wear masks, were restricted in their travel, could not attend most events, and so on.
There were some efforts to appeal to self-interest. Bars in upstate New York offered a free alcohol “shot for a shot,” Dunkin offered free donuts, and professional sports teams created sections where only the vaccinated could sit. However, the government needed to better communicate the immediate tangible privileges granted to fully vaccinated people; and more effectively espouse the benefits, at a proximal level, of mass vaccination.
There are many reasons to be skeptical of a vaccination program; some legitimate and some fabricated. Black Americans were used as test subjects in the not-so-distant past and are now rightfully wary of being injected with a new substance. On the other hand, a whole movement of anti-vaxxers, who wrongly believe vaccines create autism in children, was misled by a greedy researcher who altered his results to benefit a pharma company. Unfortunate episodes such as these add to the difficulties of mass vaccination.
Once leaders communicate the vaccine’s benefits, the government needs to prove it works as promised. People tend to respond to at least one of two forms of proof.
- Science and Data. These people believe the numbers and respond to clear and concise efficacy results from the vaccine trials and explanations for how it works and how it differs from previous vaccines.
- Stories. These people respond to reports from trusted others who have benefited from the vaccine.
In the 1990s, Stephen Covey framed this issue in terms of important versus urgent. When people receive a call to action from a messenger that aligns with a benefit of interest AND they believe the effort will lead to the expected outcome, the action becomes important. However, many things need immediate attention and become urgent but distract from what is important. When I got vaccinated, it took the entire morning to travel, get the shot, wait for side effects; and then I lost a day while recovering. I had to ignore a lot of “urgent” activities during that time.
The vaccine must become equally urgent to overcome procrastination. Do you want to travel by air this summer? You need to be vaccinated by May. Fourth of July with your family? You need that second shot by June 15. See the Knicks live in the playoffs at Madison Square Garden? Get vaccinated. All of these opportunities are time-sensitive, which is the key to creating urgency.
The final obstacle happens just before the point of no return. Maybe it happens before you start the journey to the vaccination site or right before the nurse inserts the needle into your arm. Good influencers reiterate the first four messages, but this is hard to do with each individual. Many will overcome this obstacle by reminding themselves why it is important, but others will get stuck.
There may not be an easy way to quell the uneasiness in the days and moments before people walk out of their doors on the way to the vaccination site. Many vaccine administrators make a short phone call confirming an appointment or send encouraging text messages or emails. Once on-site, it is highly likely that people will follow through, especially if their vaccinators were as caring and informative as those who administered my shots in New York City,
With something as crucial as a vaccine, the influential messaging must be deliberate. With a call to action in any group of people, country or organization, it is essential to deliberately craft the message and the strategy to maximize the likelihood of action or movement. It is imperative to link those behaviors to desirable outcomes and the satisfaction of individual needs. Psynet Group has been using our RISPA rubric for years in engagements ranging from building sales skills to implementing change initiatives. The obstacles are apparent; the pathway through them is complicated.
Curious about how to apply science to your need to influence? Reach out at [email protected]