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Editorial: Reaching the willing

Editorial: Reaching the willing

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Coronavirus cases continue to rise, and the need to get vaccinated against COVID-19 is all the more apparent.

The Delta variant's worst ravages are in states like Louisiana and Florida, but cases are rising in Iowa and Illinois, too, and the optimism we felt in the Quad-Cities only a month ago has dwindled. More people are donning masks again; more companies and local governments are requiring them. In Illinois, Gov. JB Pritzker last week said students and staff from pre-K-12 must mask up again, just in time for the beginning of school.

We know the best way to put this fire out is for vaccinations to spread. Yet, across the United States, 30% of the adult population hasn’t received even a single shot; 40% are not fully vaccinated.

It’s been disappointing to see the early momentum fizzle. In the Quad-Cities, health department officials say, even with the Delta variant spreading rapidly, vaccinations have only increased a small amount.

In Scott County, 60% of adults are fully vaccinated, while in Rock Island County, it’s 53%, according to the New York Times tracker.

In other words, we have a ways to go. Which is probably why the inducements we’ve seen offered – from lotteries to football and baseball tickets, store discounts, even free beer – are giving way to a stronger approach.

Companies like Walmart, Tyson and Microsoft, among others, have lost patience with the carrot approach and are leaning more toward the stick, announcing vaccine requirements for their workforces.

In the Quad-Cities, UnityPoint Health just announced its employees will be required to be vaccinated by Nov. 1. Genesis Health System says it will unveil its plan once it is finalized.

Colleges are also getting stricter. Western Illinois University said last week that people who aren't vaccinated will be expected to undergo weekly testing.

We expect to see more of this. Which means those who are holding out will face increasing pressure to pitch in and help the rest of us get control of this virus.

The polls we’ve seen say that a majority of the unvaccinated are determined to resist the shots, or say they are unlikely to get them. And while these are the people who tend to be the focus of media attention, there also is a significant group of people, albeit a smaller segment, who aren’t in that category; who are willing to get vaccinated but, for one reason or another, just haven’t done it yet.

A Kaiser Family Foundation poll released last week reported that a quarter of the unvaccinated (8% of the adult population) said they were “likely” to get inoculated by the end of the year.

We don’t understand why these folks (Kaiser calls it the “wait and see” crowd) haven't done it already. The shots are safe, effective and free, and there has been ample opportunity to get inoculated. However, it’s important to realize not all the unvaccinated are as belligerent as some of the louder voices that troll the backwaters of social media. There are many who, through inattention or lack of urgency, just haven’t felt the need yet; they may even have felt lesser urgency given the widespread belief a month ago that this problem was under control.

According to Kaiser, in addition to being younger, this group is more racially diverse and less conservative than those who are determined not to get vaccinated; they also are more likely to be worried about getting sick from the coronavirus than from the vaccine.

So how do we reach this “wait and see” crowd and get them to the finish line?

Some experts say we need to lean heavily on doctors and health care organizations to nudge their patients forward. Meanwhile, across the country, we’ve also seen local government efforts aimed at deploying "influencers" to work in these hard-to-reach populations.

In the Chicago area, 50 young influencers are working through a Cook County program to convince 18- to 34-year-olds to get vaccinated. A young model this summer even invited followers to meet him at his vaccination site to get inoculated.

In Colorado, the state is paying social media influencers to try to encourage their followers to get the shot.

They’re not alone. The New York Times reports that local and state officials in New Jersey, Oklahoma, North Carolina and California are working with a digital marketing company to identify social media influencers in their areas to help out.

It’s not just social media influencers, but community figures (pastors, teachers, coaches, etc.) who can also help.

Among those who haven’t gotten the shot, a great many will only be reached through some sort of coercion. We are beginning to see more of that. Still, there remain a substantive number who, given the right opportunity and a nudge from just the right person, can join the vaccinated. It will take work, but there are examples across the country that point the way forward.


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