by Kari Grenade, PhD, Regional Economist and Macroeconomic Advisor
Imagine that the entire population is at the National Stadium in your country witnessing a race; a race between the vaccine, the virus and its variants, who would you be cheering for? Who would you want to see win? Vaccine, or virus/variants?
We need not imagine that scenario because this is humanity’s reality worldwide. We are all witnessing the race of our lifetime between the virus, its variants and vaccines. In this 3-V race the winner is decided solely on the basis of how much momentum is received from the crowd. Which V wins depends on which V has the majority support and gets the loudest cheers.
Full disclosure, I took the AstraZeneca Vaccine (AZV) about 3 months after its first use in my country. I certainly wasn’t going to take it soon after it was developed and used. The economist in me needed to wait to see the evidence — evidence of its safety and efficacy. During the time of observing the global, regional and local performance of the AZV, I did my own research — exposing myself to only credible information from reputable references (one has to be careful what one lets into her/his space). Having satisfied myself that the preliminary global, regional and local evidence pointed to relative safety and efficacy, I made my decision that it was the right time for me to get vaccinated. My symptoms, which lasted for a few hours, were some of the typical ones — mild headache, pain at the injection site, and feverish feeling.
I willingly took the vaccine, but I am careful not to judge, or worst yet, chastise anyone for being hesitant or cautious about taking theirs. Indeed, we may all be witnessing the same race of a lifetime, but each is doing so from her/his own vantage point. Moreover, the vaccine is new and so there are a lot of unknowns. I admit that I was cautious at first; all of my questions are still not answered, but the information that I do have, I deem it sufficient to inform my choice to get the jab.
Taking the vaccine (any brand) is the right and responsible thing to do; nonetheless, does that mean that someone who hasn’t yet taken the vaccine (hesitant) or who doesn’t intend to take it for whatever reasons (anti-vaxxers) should be shamed, have they concerns dismissed, or worst yet, chastised as being irresponsible and selfish? Certainly not! Indeed, nothing positive can ever come from shaming or belittling someone. Let us never forget that it is the virus that is the enemy, not the women and men that it affects; we are not each other’s enemy! It’s hard to get people to act in a cooperative and responsible manner when they are “otherised” and treated as an enemy. When humans are faced with difficult choices that involve risks, the last thing that they need is to be judged for thinking differently and/or acting differently.
Nonetheless, as a macroeconomist I understand that in the 3Vs race, the stakes are high for the economy. Which V wins will determine the shape of the economic recovery: “V” shaped; “W” shaped; “L” shaped; or “I” shaped. Indeed, there is a strong link between a country’s ability to collectively protect itself against the virus and its variants, and the shape its economic recovery takes.
In my respectful view, accelerating vaccine uptake will require more strategic and tailored messages. It is not sufficient to provide information to people because having information does not necessarily change behaviour, the internalisation of information does. People need to make sense of the information provided and in so doing, transform that information into knowledge and with knowledge gain power to make a choice. Instilling fear won’t work either because fear’s effect on the brain is temporary; cigarette smokers demonstrate this best.
The message from public health officials is a general one, aimed at everyone and hinged on, “get the vaccine to protect yourself and others.” Such standardised general messaging is not translating into increased vaccination because the official messengers must not only be steep in the science (have high IQ) but emotionally intelligent as well (have high EQ); the latter is important for forging connections, building relationships and engendering trust. Furthermore, people need to receive reinforcement from multiple credible sources to be convinced. Only then will there be behavioral change. Public health messages must be differentiated taking into account age, gender, educational, religious, social class, and political differences for example. Survey results of the reasons for vaccine hesitancy can also inform more tailored and direct interventions.
I count myself fortunate to be living in this era of human history where technology is so advanced that vaccines can be produced with sufficient rates of efficacy, in relatively quick time, through robust and strategic global public-private collaboration. To God be the glory!
So why did I take the AZV? I took it not only because I am an economist and I want to contribute to hastening the recovery. I took it not because I want to resume overseas family vacations. I took it not because I want to part of a global fad. Those were not my prime motivators. I took the vaccine because my 2 young children are unable to take it and it is my indelible responsibility to protect them from the deadly virus that is no respecter of persons, which is galloping in its race to harm and/or kill us all. Covid-19 has done enough already and it must be stopped! The vaccine is our only shot at stopping the deadly virus.
Some persons are probably waiting for a specific brand of vaccine — fair enough, but it is highly likely that they may have to wait for an extraordinarily long time given the acute global supply shortage of vaccines. Indeed, it is possible that vaccine nationalism could intensify as new variants emerge and cases surge. The old adage “you never miss the water until the well runs dry” is noteworthy.
No one really knows what is the worst thing that can happen if someone doesn’t take the vaccine (any brand). However, we know that if someone does take the vaccine (any brand), she/he will get an extra layer of protection against the deadly Covid-19; an extra layer in addition to the wearing of masks, sanitizing, loading up on Vitamin C, and physical distancing. Doesn’t it make perfect sense to get an extra layer of protection in the fight against the deadly virus?
I end as I began, who will you be cheering for in the race of our lifetime? Virus or Vaccine?
With respect and love!