Had my first IRL encounter with vaccine hesitancy in SF yesterday.
I was grabbing an Uber back from a blood test and got chatting with the driver about all sorts of stuff. He was a perfectly lovely guy, probably around the same age as me. He asked if I’d had the vaccine and I said yes, that I’d had the second about two weeks ago. I asked if he had had it, thinking that maybe he asked me because he’d just had his. He said he wasn’t planning to get it, alluded to being skeptical about what was in them and whether they were safe.
He said something like 40% of the US military wasn’t getting the vaccine. I didn’t really really know what to say to that. I knew it wasn’t quite right, but was too tired to question it.
(Back in February it was reported that about one-third of military personnel supposedly were planning not to get the vaccine, but that was based on an extrapolation from survey data from the rest of the US population at the time, not on any major survey of the military itself [more on this]. We don’t actually know how many members of the military are getting the vaccine since it isn’t being tracked, it could be way higher or way lower. And the broader numbers across the US have changed since then, though there is still a good chunk of the population that is hesitant.)
Anyways, the conversation moved on. We got talking about how dire it was early on in San Francisco, tough for him to drive then. About how nice it is to see things gradually opening up, how it was nice to be seeing so many more people out and about even though it meant bad traffic, about how it will be great when we can stop wearing masks outside at least. He mentioned that he was planning to keep wearing his mask inside and while driving for a long, long time. So he was vaccine hesitant, but in no way an anti-masker or anything.
I mentioned how impressed I was by the vaccine efforts going on at the Moscone Center, about how I’d never seen anything like it, so many kind and qualified people coming together to help so many hundreds of other people every day. Figured it was the best I could do short of actively trying to convince him to get the vaccine itself.
When we parted ways, he said he was feeling positive about the whole situation, with so many people getting vaccinated. Said to stay safe, then I was out the door.
I need to figure out how to respond more proactively in that sort of situation. I think that his rational was probably “there are plenty of other people getting it, so I should be safe without it”. But we can’t realistically get high enough immunity within the population that way, and it isn’t a very community-minded approach. How do you get that across without being accusatory or making someone defensive?
I’m glad he’s feeling positive, but unfortunately I left the car feeling a bit lower than when I’d gotten in. We have such a massive mountain to climb in terms of the quality, efficacy, and breadth of our public health communication.