If health and government officials want more people to get vaccinated against COVID- 19, they’re going to have to elevate their messaging.

Although there’s probably little hope in getting entrenched anti-vaxxers and recalcitrant conspiracy theorists to change their made-up minds, there’s likelihood of getting those on the fence to get inoculated if the message isn’t so dispiriting.

It’s a reasonable question to ask: What’s the point of getting vaccinated if we have to keep doing the same things — masking, distancing and not traveling?

“It’s a lot like advising that you wear a condom, but because they’re not 100 percent effective, you should also refrain from having intercourse,” wrote Jim Sollisch in a March 7 opinion piece for cleveland.com. “Not a very compelling message if you want people to use condoms.”

Sollisch acknowledges he isn’t an epidemiologist. He’s a partner and executive creative director for the advertising agency Marcus Thomas LLC in Cleveland. He’s an ad guy.

But Sollisch, understanding the zeitgeist, is onto something.

“I look for audiences that are persuadable,” he said. “And then I think, ‘What can I tell them that will make them open their minds a bit?’”

Sollisch isn’t advocating lying and hyping the vaccines. What he wants is messaging grounded in reality, not gloom and overzealous “abundance of caution.” Health and governmental officials haven’t done enough to tout the victories in the COVID-19 pandemic.

Moderna and Pfizer BioNTech vaccines are 95 percent effective in preventing symptomatic illness and nearly 100 percent effective in preventing severe cases, he said. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine is lower in prevention but also very effective at preventing severe illness.

“Which means that vaccinated people who get COVID-19 will suffer nothing worse than symptoms similar to a bad cold or normal flu,” he said, citing science.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s post-vaccine guidelines don’t do much to sell those who are undecided or unmotivated to get vaccines, largely because there isn’t enough research about whether people vaccinated can still be a “silent spreader.”

But there’s reason to hope there, too. Pfizer on March 11 announced its mRNA vaccine for COVID-19 was 94 percent effective at preventing the asymptomatic transmission of the virus that causes COVID-19.

“It looks like 90 percent reduction in asymptomatic transmission,” said Dr. Peter Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, in a March 12 USA Today article. “So that’s really good.”

But what about the virus variants? Those variants only make the vaccines more essential, health officials say.

So far, studies suggest antibodies generated through inoculation with the authorized vaccines do recognize new variants and can be effective, although vaccine makers already are working on boosters, according to reports. But the loud-and-clear message should be vaccination with the existing supply will help combat variants.

One reason the virus is throwing out variants and will continue to do so is because relatively few people globally have been vaccinated, said Dr. Norman Baylor, a former director of the FDA’s Office of Vaccines Research and Review, who was quoted in a March 17 article in an online publication of the Journal of the American Medical Association. “This virus is like, ‘Yep, I’ve got plenty of people I can infect, and the more I replicate, the more I can mutate.”

The CDC’s guidelines allow for fully vaccinated people indoors without wearing masks or physical distancing. And the guidelines allow the vaccinated to visit people from a single household who are low risk for severe COVID-19 indoors without wearing masks or physical distancing. And those vaccinated can refrain from quarantine and testing after a known exposure if asymptomatic.

That’s all a good start. But the CDC also recommends the vaccinated continue taking precautions in public, including well-fitted masks, physical distancing and avoiding medium- and large-sized in-person gatherings. And this makes the skeptics throw up their hands in frustration.

“The problem is not that the good news isn’t being reported, or that we should throw caution to the wind just yet,” Zeynep Tufekci said in a Feb. 26 opinion piece in The Atlantic. Tufekci isn’t a doctor, but an associate professor at the University of North Carolina. She studies the interaction between digital technology, artificial intelligence and society.

“It’s that neither the reporting nor the public-health messaging has reflected the truly amazing reality of these vaccines,” Tufekci said. “There is nothing wrong with realism and caution, but effective communication requires a sense of proportion — distinguishing between due alarm and alarmism; warranted, measured caution and doombait; worst-case scenarios and claims of impending catastrophe.”

Hope is what’s going to get us through, she said.

What the public needs to hear is the good news about the vaccine and how we’re on the verge of going back to normal. Not the new normal, or the always-looking-over-our-shoulder normal. But the normal we knew before the pandemic.

“We need to let people know that getting a vaccine will almost immediately change their lives for the better, and why, and also when and how increased vaccination will change more than their individual risks and opportunities, and see us out of this pandemic,” Tufekci wrote.

We should continue to take precautions until more people are vaccinated. Those unvaccinated should especially heed health guidelines. But more people won’t get vaccinated unless the message is this: “There’s light at the end of this dark, long and winding tunnel, reminding us what miracles the vaccines are and the freedoms they’ll restore.”

• Laura Elder

 Laura Elder: 409-683-5248; laura.elder@galvnews.com

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(21) comments

Bailey Jones

I really don't understand this argument that I keep hearing - we have the vaccine, why do we need to continue the protocols? Having the vaccine does nothing to halt the spread of COVID. What halts the spread of COVID is getting the vaccine into people. Nationwide we've vaccinated 13.5% of the population. We know that we need at least 70% of the population to be vaccinated before we reach "herd immunity".

Anyone can do the math. We're not there yet. How we get there is by everyone getting vaccinated, and maintaining the protocols to keep the virus under control until everyone gets vaccinated.

How will we know when we are there? When we see a dramatic decline in the numbers of new COVID cases. We have seen a decline since the post-holiday surge, and it feels dramatic, but the levels are still as high as what we saw during last summer's surge. So we are not there yet.

I get my first shot today. I'll continue to wear my mask and social distance until the virus isn't sending people to the hospital and the morgue. We have a few more months to go.

Carlos Ponce

Stay home if you fear.

Gary Scoggin

Now that I am vaccinated, what I fear is being asymptomatic and giving it to someone else.

Bailey Jones

A good friend of mine got vaccinated, then got COVID symptoms the next day. He had been exposed right before the vaccination, before his body had a chance to develop antibodies.

You are right, Gary, until the science of whether a vaccinated person can still be infectious is settled, the prudent thing to do is to assume that you can still be infectious.

Carlos Ponce

Bailey, I pray you are never infectious.

Robert Braeking

Mr. Jones, Your figures are bordering on a lie. The 70% of the population does not need to be vaccinated to achieve herd immunity. 70% need to either be vaccinated OR infected and recover. Infection is the best form of vaccination. Currently there are 10% of the Texas population who are infected AND REPORTED. There are many times that number who have been infected, not reported, and recovered. I've been going maskless whenever the mask nazis allow it in an effort to become naturally immunized. I can't seem to catch it or have already had it.

Craig Mason

That's fine for you Robert, but please stay 6 feet away from me!

Bailey Jones

Robert, I won't argue the numbers because there is still much to learn about how long immunity lasts. Unlike other diseases, immunity to COVID from either a vaccine or infection may not last decades. Current research indicates that immunity lasts for up to 8 months, but we just don't know how much longer yet. It's entirely possible that we will require a new shot every year - as we do with the flu, where each vaccination lasts about 6 months.

Regardless, it makes sense to get as many people vaccinated (or, in your case, self-infected) as soon as possible. I assume that we all have the same end goal - getting past this pandemic and returning to normalcy - where we crowd together and breathe each others' exhaled microbiomes with impunity, if not immunity.

If you want to get infected, I understand that masks are rare at Walmart - you might be able to catch it there. But a vaccine is a surer thing.

Stuart Crouch

Careful who you hint, in your opinion, a liar. You might also try and wrap your mind around the idea that referencing someone or a group as a "nazi" is neither accurate or cute. Regardless, your post here clearly identifies you as part of the problem.

Carlos Ponce

The reference comes from Jerry Seinfeld, a Jew, referring to overzealous people - the Soup NAZI, who unless you followed his orders to the letter, "NO SOUP FOR YOU!"

Jim Forsythe

Wearing mask has nothing to do with fear, but it does have to do with not wanting anyone to get sick that does not have to.

We have more then one reason to continue with mask wearing, hand washing and such. One is that we all need to help keep the ones not vaccinated as safe as possible. The other is personal safety. This past flu season, we had very few cases of flu in the USA. This demonstrates that hand washing, mask wearing and such works. These preventive measures will continue with many people.

During the 2019 flu season from Sept. 29 to Dec. 28, the CDC reported more than 65,000 cases of influenza nationwide. During the same period this flu season, the agency reported 1,016 cases.

Health experts said that high vaccination rates against the flu – combined with social distancing, mask-wearing and hand-washing employed to stop the spread of the coronavirus – played a huge role in preventing influenza transmission. The drop occurred despite a six fold increase in testing at public health labs, most of which checked for influenza A and B along with the coronavirus.

Bailey Jones

One more reason, Jim - we're in a race against COVID mutants. We're already seeing mutations that are less susceptible to the vaccine, more infectious, and more deadly. Mutations occur naturally as the virus reproduces. The more bodies the virus has to live in, the more mutations will be created, and the greater the risk of a truly new viral threat emerging.

If a new variant emerges that is vaccine-resistant, then it will spread through the population just as the original variety did, and everything we've suffered during the past year will have been for naught. The B.1.1.7 variant which seems to have originated in the UK is now 98% of UK cases. It's doubling every week in Houston and will be the dominant variant in a few weeks. So far, the antibodies created by current vaccines seem to be effective against these new variants.

The only way to ensure that a dangerous new variant doesn't emerge is to stop giving the virus bodies to replicate in. That means we need to get everyone vaccinated ASAP, and do everything we can to control the spread in the meantime. And possibly stop whining about it like a bunch of spoiled children.

Gary Miller

Bailey> Some truth instead of propaganda would help. If someone is not infected they can't infect anyone with or without wearing a mask. 90 % of people infected were infected while wearing a mask by someone wearing a mask. Sun light or ultravilate light is more effective than masks. Wearing goggles is as effective as masks. Avoiding crowds or sick people is better than a mask. Listening to Fauci does you no good but makes him richer. Hand sanitizer kills bacteria but not viruses.

Carlos Ponce

So wear a mask for the rest of your life. There's always a bug going around.

Robert Braeking


Charlotte O'rourke

I understand the need to make a living and why businesses want to be wide open without any government mandate. But, with a large portion of the states showing an increase covid count, with the variants increasing, and without everyone vaccinated that wants to be, I wonder why state government had to go for WIDE OPEN to offset our year long progress when the goal is in sight.

It’s like dancing before you go over the goal.

Penny wise and Pound foolish behavior.

Bailey Jones

Europe is already seeing a third wave - because they've been vaccinating too slowly.

Charlotte O'rourke

Yes it is closing. Do you think we will have to close again or will we win the race to be vaccinated?

Bailey Jones

And think we will not close, and we will not win the race against the virus. And then we will blame the scientists.

Carlos Ponce

N, Bailey. Blame the Flip Flopping Dr Fauci.

The makers of "Billy Bass" need to make a similar one with the likeness of Dr. Anthony Fauci.

"The virus is nothing to worry about" FLIP "We must take this virus seriously" FLOP

"Don't wear a mask." FLIP " Wear a mask , maybe two masks." FLOP

Gary Miller

Charlotte> States that have reopened are still improving faster than states still closed. Being closed causes poverty and is as deadly as Covid. Reopening helps cure poverty. Blue places remain closed because poverty increases government dependence. Growing the welfare state is more important to Socialists than curing covid.

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