Five Ways to Speed Up Flagging U.S. Vaccination Rates

According to the Bloomberg Covid-19 vaccine tracker, the U.S. vaccination rate peaked in mid-April, when an average of 3.3 million doses were administered. Since then, the vaccination rate has fallen by nearly a million shots a day, sliding back down to 2.3 million. This has prompted a shift in strategy from the Joe Biden administration, which plans to move away from mass vaccination sites and reallocate vaccine doses. What else can be done to reverse this disheartening trend? Bloomberg Opinion columnists have some ideas on that.

Take a Page from Food Trucks — Virginia Postrel

It’s hard to vaccinate people who think vaccines are dangerous or unnecessary. It should be much easier to get shots to people who just find them inconvenient. But we have to stop treating vaccines like exclusive reservations at the hottest restaurant in town. Think food trucks instead.

Establish rolling vaccine centers that go where getting a shot can be an impulse decision — no advance planning needed. And don’t limit operations to business hours, when most people you want to reach are working.

Parking lots at fast-food restaurants would be an ideal place to start. Chick-Fil-ATaco Bell and McDonald’s attract a disproportionate number of Black and Latino customers, as well as a younger crowd — all of which would help to fill gaps among the vaccinated. Ideally these companies would serve as partners, offering gift certificates along with vaccines and promoting the effort on social media. But even without big-brand support, making vaccines quick and easy, rather than a multi-hour process of searching, traveling and waiting in line, would encourage busy people to get their shots.

Use a Pro-Social (and More Honest) Message — Faye Flam

To help convince healthy, young people to get vaccinated, public-health leaders should make a pro-social case for vaccination by telling the stories of the people who’ve been vaccinated but aren’t likely to generate a good antibody response — like people with autoimmune conditions. The way to make the most vulnerable safer is to lower the prevalence of the virus, by vaccinating as many people as possible as fast as possible.

But to make that case, the public-health community will also have to abandon two messages that weren’t quite true.

The first is the notion that the vaccine is 100% effective at preventing hospitalization and death. If this were true, the decision to get a vaccine is entirely a personal one — there’d be no benefit to the community in getting the shots. The reality is that while there were no deaths or hospitalizations in the limited clinical trials, in the real world, there have been, in part because of people with health conditions that were not well represented in the trials.

The second is that the vaccines don’t reduce transmission. In fact, getting the vaccine does reduce the odds of transmitting Covid, so getting vaccinated will help the community. Telling people otherwise might have been considered a good tactic for convincing them to keep wearing masks — but over the long term, honesty is probably the best policy.

Make Appointments for Employees — Sarah Green Carmichael

Employers can play a major role in getting workers vaccinated — especially people who work in warehouses, factories and processing plants. “If English is not your first language, and you're working 12-hour shifts during the week, and all the portals to sign up for a vaccine are online, fill up quickly, in English and require you to have a car, then it gets a little tricky” to get the vaccine, Peter Handy, CEO of Bristol Seafood in Portland, Maine, told me. That’s why his company has arranged appointments, paid for transportation and paid workers’ wages while they go get their shots.

While Handy doesn’t mandate vaccination — no employer I’ve spoken with does — he’s been vocal about how vaccination can help him eliminate his company’s mask mandate. The prospect of going mask-free may be a little nudge for anyone still unsure about getting the shot. “It creates a little bit of peer pressure where someone's saying, ‘Yeah, I know, this guy's not getting a shot. This gets in the way of me not being able to take my mask off.’”

“I'm not under any illusion that we'll have 100% vaccination,” he says, but “today, the state of Maine is at 38%. And we're over 80%.”

Beat People Over the Head With Vaccine Safety Data — Sam Fazeli

An important way to make people comfortable with vaccines is through messaging, and there’s a problem with it now.

Case in point: Vaccination rates in the U.S. seem to have dropped off markedly just as the Food and Drug Administration halted use of Johnson & Johnson’s shot because of clotting risks. That may be just a coincidence, but the J&J pause probably didn't help with vaccine uptake — especially in the absence of messaging to better frame the move. In reality, the pause should have boosted confidence in vaccine oversight. The adverse events reporting system raised a flag within weeks of the vaccine being rolled out and the regulators acted fast. But that’s not how many people saw it.

Even more important, the FDA and others haven’t been strong enough in emphasizing the depth of the data that show how safe and effective the other Covid vaccines have been. Eighteen million people in the U.S. have been fully vaccinated with either the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna shot for at least three months, and there are no reports of adverse effects — such as those seen with the J&J and AstraZeneca vaccines — while infection rates and hospitalizations have gone down nationwide. Why haven’t regulators spent more time discussing the safety of these two vaccines? They could even cite how well they have worked in countries such as Israel and the U.K. that were ahead of the U.S. in the vaccination effort. Better and stronger messaging could make a big difference.

Forget Carrots; Use Sticks — Joe Nocera

If you do a Google search for “Covid-19 vaccine incentives,” what mostly pops up are articles about what you might call carrots — ways to entice people by, say, offering financial rewards or paid days off to get their jabs. “Free weed, doughnuts and other incentives offered to get reluctant Americans to take Covid-19 vaccine,” read a recent headline in the Chicago Tribune.

But I don’t think carrots are going to work. The media has stressed, again and again, how safe the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are, and yet a tremendous amount of vaccine hesitancy remains, especially among Republican men. So I say: Let’s use the stick instead.

To my mind, the most likely way to do that is to show the unvaccinated what they’re missing out on. Or, to put it another way, allow people who have been vaccinated to do things we’ve all been yearning to do this past year while keeping them out of reach of the unvaccinated.

For instance, when restaurants no longer have to keep their tables six feet apart, they could restrict customers to those who have been vaccinated. Airlines could decide they only want vaccinated passengers. School districts could insist that teachers be vaccinated if they want to go back to work in September. (All of this will require some sort of vaccine passport, of course.)

Some of this is already happening; as I noted last week, dozens of universities are requiring that students be vaccinated unless they have a compelling medical or religious reason not to be. And the CDC announced recently that the cruise industry, which has been shut down for over a year, can resume operations only if the vast majority of passengers are vaccinated.

Will there be pushback? Of course. The right-wing media will declare vaccination-only policies an affront to American values. And there will surely be lawsuits, too. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has gone so far as to decree that businesses can’t ask for proof of vaccination.

But so what? The point of the exercise isn’t to coddle every tender sensibility. It is to persuade the vaccine-hesitant to get off the fence — and the best way to do that is to show them what they’re missing.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

Bloomberg Opinion provides commentary on business, economics, politics, technology and markets.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

BQ Install

Bloomberg Quint

Add BloombergQuint App to Home screen.