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“Joint for Jabs”: The US desperately seeks to immunize anti-vaccines

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As daily vaccinations decline despite huge supplies, the 50 US states employ different strategies to try to convince the most skeptical groups

The US authorities already knew that this moment would come: the day when the vaccination campaign against COVID would run into skeptics and anti-vaccines; two groups that, for the moment, resist the puncture and can hinder the trip to that promised land that today we call ‘group immunity’. As daily vaccinations decline despite abundant supplies, the 50 states employ different strategies to try to convince these groups.

‘Joints for jabs’ read a sign in Union Square, one of the busiest squares in Lower Manhattan. On April 20, several activists offered free marijuana joints to those New Yorkers over 21 who showed them their completed vaccine card. 

The marijuana community supports the science behind the COVID vaccine and what better way to encourage cannabis users to get vaccinated than to give out free pot.

said one of the volunteers, Dana Beal, in a statement.

The use of cannabis as an incentive, also in honor of the fact that its recreational use has just been legalized in New York, is only one of the many weapons of seduction deployed in favor of vaccination. Donuts, baseball or opera tickets, or a weekly subway voucher are offered in the ‘city of skyscrapers’. New Jersey tempts first-drinkers with a shot and a beer, and West Virginia offers a $ 100 savings voucher directly.

The Biden Administration has also closed an agreement with the digital transport companies Uber and Lyft with the aim of helping with logistics. 

To make sure transportation is less of a barrier, from May 24 to July 4, Uber and Lyft are offering everyone free rides to and from vaccination sites. I think this really redoubles the effort.

stated US President Joe Biden, last Tuesday

Even so, the figures suggest that it will be a difficult task. So far, just over a third of the North American population has been fully immunized, and the daily vaccination rate has dropped from 3.4 million in mid-April to about two million today. A number that seems stable at the moment.

Skepticism increases

A partial explanation for this drop is the temporary suspension of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine due to a reduced number of cases of brain thrombi. This brand, the only one of the three approved in the US that only required one dose, was mainly aimed at segments of the population with reduced mobility or difficulty to reach, such as patients who cannot leave their homes or groups of people without homes. 

The Johnson & Johnson stoppage was reflected in the overall numbers. Not just because it was stopped, but because a significant number of Americans canceled their appointments to receive doses of the other brands. Which would prove that this hiatus would have made a dent in the general confidence of the people.

Then there are the skeptics and, more to the extreme, the anti-vaccines: those who for various reasons have decided to wait to see what happens or who simply do not trust the government and pharmaceutical companies

In the fuzzy cloud of their motives, some patterns can be seen: apparently, the largest number of skeptics is concentrated in Republican states, which have also been the ones that have imposed the lightest confinements and laxer rules regarding the use of a mask.

As Derek Thompson points out in ‘The Atlantic‘, of the 20 states in which the most people are vaccinated per day, relative to population, all voted for Democrat Joe Biden last November. By contrast, of the 13 least vaccinated states, Biden won only one (Georgia, by narrow margins). The rest opted for Donald Trump. 

A poll by Civiqs shows that the most skeptical population group is that of “white Republicans”: 56% said at the end of February “not sure” about getting vaccinated, compared to 7% of white Democrats. Black and Latino’s skepticism was around 30%.

Some references on the right, such as the star presenter of Fox News and also the most-watched in the United States, Tucker Carlson, have repeatedly questioned the effectiveness of the vaccines and the good faith of the authorities. 

Last week, Carlson spuriously linked thousands of deaths to doses of the vaccine. Despite this, the presenter has refused to reveal whether or not the injection has been given.

This trend, although it predominates in the conservative sphere, also occurs in other spaces. America’s most-followed comedian and podcaster, Joe Rogan, whose 10 most popular interviews total 210 million views, suggested to young people that they shouldn’t get the vaccine. 

“If you’re a healthy person, and you’re exercising all the time, and you’re young, and you eat well, well, I don’t think you need to worry about this,” said Rogan, 53.

Rogan’s audience represents a good portion of the United States and the government hastened to correct it. The main adviser of health of the White House, Dr. Anthony Fauci, declared during an interview on NBC News that Rogan’s reflection was “incorrect” and that healthy young people also have to be immunized. 

“If you only want to worry about yourself and not about society, then good,” said Fauci, but the fact that asymptomatic young people can infect their relatives “is the reason why you have to be careful and get vaccinated.”

There are even health workers who have seen and treated dozens or hundreds of covid patients and have decided not to get vaccinated for the moment. Such is the case with Jonathan Damato, a Staten Island paramedic who spent all of 2020 dreading bringing the virus home after his endless shifts. 

When the opportunity to get vaccinated came, instead, she decided to think twice. Some things that he had seen on the internet and that he had been told, according to his testimony to the Bloomberg agency, made him think twice.

Traditionally, doctors who try to convince patients or the public of the need for vaccination tend to think that it is a matter of information. If someone does not want to be pricked, it is because they lack quality data, because they are not exposed to the correct sources. 

An idea that different investigations seem to deny: health authorities do not deal with an information problem, but with a problem of beliefs.

A study published in the journal ‘Nature‘ links skepticism about the vaccine with certain moral values ​​related to ‘purity’ and individual ‘freedom’, something deeply ingrained in the United States. 

The body is the last frontier. Allowing the government to introduce a syringe in a context of a state of emergency would not be the most palatable context for more than one American. Specifically, for that third part of the population that recognizes their skepticism.

Now the consensus, according to different virologists consulted by ‘The New York Times’, is that the United States probably does not pass the threshold of ‘group immunity’: that moment when the virus would disappear when it was left without victims. 

Instead, it would continue to haunt an indefinite season, filling hospitals and killing lives in unpredictable ways, but in much lower numbers than in fateful 2020. The fact that the virus mutates relatively quickly prompts the White House to plan an Extra number of doses to boost immunizations.

Meanwhile, the Biden Administration tries to put more punctures in more arms. The pharmaceutical regulator FDA just authorized the use of Pfizer’s vaccine in people between the ages of 12 and 15. Although children and adolescents can get sick, these are less common cases, but the risk is that they act as transmitters. Laboratories are already studying the effects of the vaccine in children older than six months.

At least the numbers are clearly improving and the reopening by states has already begun. Daily infections are down from 40,000, 30% less than at the end of last month. 

The deceased are around 650 daily, a figure lower than the worst days of last spring only in New York City. 

Across the United States, a maximum of 4,320 people died on January 13.

Image Credit: Getty

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