There are still thousands of vaccine holdouts on LI. What does it take to convince them?
Long Island residents have been asking for months by public health officials and politicians to get vaccinated against COVID-19. You have seen an increase in COVID-related deaths and hospitalizations in the past few weeks amid the spread of the Delta variant. And some could lose their jobs if they don’t get vaccinated.
Still, nearly 350,000 people on the island who are eligible for vaccination – more than 14% of those 12 and older – remain unvaccinated.
What you should know
Almost 350,000 Long Islanders aged 12 and over Those eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine remain unvaccinated, data from the state health ministry shows.
Experts give advice from a trustworthy person is usually more effective than scientific data in convincing a vaccinating person to get the vaccination or in convincing a parent to vaccinate their child.
Addressing people’s emotions also is usually more effective than data, said a public health psychologist. For example, parents should be warned that if they do not receive the vaccine, there is a risk that their child will die. At least 480 children nationwide have died of COVID-19.
Experts say vaccine mandates have led some to get vaccinated. But, they said, people have various reasons not to get the vaccination, and convincing other objecters goes beyond vaccination campaigns targeting the general public.
“We definitely need to be more focused at this point,” said Martine Hackett, associate professor of health professions at Hofstra University in Hempstead. “We have reached whom we could reach with a broader approach.”
In Nassau County, 69.9% of the total population is fully vaccinated, state data shows. Suffolk County, where 63.3% of the population is fully vaccinated, is also above the statewide rate of 61.6%.
Vaccination rates vary widely based on age, race, and community.
Across the island, more than 99% of 65 to 74 year olds are vaccinated, but the number drops to below 78% for 16 to 34 year olds and to 57% for children aged 12 to 15 years. Wealthier communities tend to have higher vaccination rates than poorer ones, and blacks are less likely to be vaccinated than whites, Latinos, and Asians.
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Hackett said renewed efforts should be made to reach communities with lower vaccination rates by using trusted individuals in those communities to convey the importance of vaccination.
More than 99% of 65 to 74 year olds on Long Island have been vaccinated against COVID-19. Photo credit: AFP via Getty Images / KENA BETANCUR
Robert Fullilove, assistant dean of community and minority affairs at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, said advice from a trusted person is usually more effective than data.
“What we are seeing is that with people who initially hesitated and then decided to get vaccinated, someone you trusted played a very important role in changing that person’s mind,” he said.
One obstacle to convincing black residents to get vaccinated is widespread distrust of the government and the medical system, Fullilove said.
“The first thing we do is acknowledge that historically people have a legitimate reason to have this level of suspicion,” he said.
Then someone you trust – like a church pastor for some – can talk about vaccinations, said Fullilove.
Anyone who is vaccinated can make a huge difference to their family and friends, he said. They can use the trust built up over the years and talk about how they have benefited from the vaccine without any serious negative effects. And they can emphasize how vaccination helps protect vulnerable family members and friends.
“People don’t trust numbers, statistics or raw data”
A similar strategy can help keep parents unsure about getting their children vaccinated, he said.
“People don’t trust numbers, statistics or raw data. But they trust something they can see and experience firsthand: ‘Hey, it’s been a couple of weeks [after vaccination], and the kid is fine, you are fine, maybe I’ll get vaccinated and get my kid vaccinated, said Fullilove, playing the role of a vaccine-reluctant parent.
Currently, only children 12 and over can receive COVID-19 vaccines, although Pfizer-BioNTech announced on September 20 that studies show its vaccine is highly effective and safe in children between the ages of 5 and 11.
Dr. KC Rondello, an epidemiologist at Adelphi University in Garden City, urged parents who are reluctant to vaccinate their children to speak to their pediatricians instead of, for example, relying on what they read on social media, which often contains false or misleading information.
“If you do, you will find that in almost all cases the best way to protect your children with the vaccine is,” he said.
One problem is the widespread – but incorrect – belief that children who contract the virus do not get seriously ill from it, he said.
Data shows that children are less likely to develop severe COVID-19 than older adults. But by September 16, at least 480 children nationwide had died of COVID-19 and more than 21,000 had been hospitalized, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. The hospital admission dates only cover 24 states and the death dates don’t include five, the academy said.
Speaking “to humanity”
Perry Halkitis, a public health psychologist and dean of New Jersey’s Rutgers School of Public Health, said it could be effective to go beyond the numbers and appeal directly to parents’ concern for their children.
“You want to use some emotion and passion: ‘You don’t want your child to die,'” he said.
One problem is that doctors and scientists who appear on television or social media news feeds often speak in dry, scientific language, he said.
“You have to do it in a way that speaks to the humanity of the people, speaks at the level of the people you are speaking to, and not from an authority, not condescending, and using everyday, simple language for you to speak to people become accessible, “said Halkitis.
Access and availability are also an issue for some people, Hackett said. Making it as convenient as possible to get vaccinated, such as through the Nassau County program that brings vaccines to the workplace, can increase vaccination rates, she said.
Rondello said the vaccination rate remains constant – nearly 200,000 have received their first dose nationwide within the last week – shows that a combination of people who are convinced of the benefits of vaccination and are urged to do so by current and upcoming vaccination mandates works.
On Monday, a state regulation comes into force that employees of hospitals and nursing homes have to be vaccinated or have to expect the possible loss of their jobs. And the federal mandate that would affect most people – that every U.S. employer with 100 or more employees require either a vaccination or weekly testing – has not even come into effect, he noted. This date has not yet been set.
Many may opt for the testing option at first, but some may realize that getting vaccinated is easier, Rondello said.
“In the carrot and whip analogy, you only get carrots so far,” said Rondello. “There are many who believe that if we don’t start using some sticks, we won’t get where we need to be. The vaccine mandates fall into that category.”
David Olson covers healthcare. He has been with Newsday since 2015 and previously reported on immigration, multicultural issues and religion for The Press-Enterprise in Southern California.