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Counterproductive vaccine doomsaying

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Julia Marcus has an excellent piece about how assertions that nothing can change after people take an (extremely effective vaccine) are both scientifically nonsensical and massively counterproductive:

When Americans began receiving coronavirus vaccines last month, people started fantasizing about the first thing they’d do when the pandemic ends: go back to work, visit family, hug friends. But the public discussion soon shifted. One news article after another warned about everything that could go wrong: Protection isn’t immediate; vaccinated people can still transmit the virus; vaccinated people might get mild infections that could become chronic; vaccines might not work as well against new coronavirus variants. “COVID-19 Vaccine Doesn’t Mean You Can Party Like It’s 1999,” one headline admonished. Can vaccinated people at least hang out with one another? Nope, masks and distancing are still required. “Bottom line,” another article concluded ominously: “You will need to wear a face mask after you’re vaccinated until COVID-19 cases become nearly nonexistent.”

Although scientists are still learning about how much the two government-approved vaccines reduce transmission of the coronavirus, the evidence shows that their efficacy against disease is phenomenal. Although not zero-risk, close contact between two people is safer if one has received a vaccine, and safer still if both are vaccinated. For this reason, public-health experts elsewhere in the world are emphasizing hope. In a new social-media campaign, health officials from across the European Union stress that vaccination will help people get their lives back. “I’ll do it to protect my father and organise a big family weekend get-together,” declares Belgium’s chief scientific adviser. “I did it because I want us to live normally again,” says the chief coronavirus adviser in Romania.

But in the United States, the prevailing message is that, because vaccines aren’t perfect, people who have received them shouldn’t let down their guard in any way—not even at gatherings with just a few other vaccinated people. “Based on science and how vaccines work, it certainly is likely that [such a gathering] will end up being lower-risk,” a pharmacologist from Johns Hopkins University toldThe Washington Post. “But right now, we just don’t know.” Government officials are no more upbeat. In response to the question of whether a vaccinated person needs to continue taking precautions, the CDC states that “not enough information is currently available” to say when—or even if—it will stop recommending the use of masks and distancing.

The message that vaccines aren’t 100 percent effective in preventing disease, and that the data are still out on how much they reduce transmission, is an accurate and important one. Risk-mitigation strategies are needed in public spaces, particularly indoors, until more people are vaccinated and infections wane. But not all human interactions take place in public. Advising people that they must do nothing differently after vaccination—not even in the privacy of their homes—creates the misimpression that vaccines offer little benefit at all. Vaccines provide a true reduction of risk, not a false sense of security. And trying to eliminate even the lowest-risk changes in behavior both underestimates people’s need to be close to one another and discourages the very thing that will get everyone out of this mess: vaccine uptake.

This beginning to remind me of Dem elites convincing themselves that lying about Republican health care policy preferences (“the GOP is betraying its longstanding commitment to the principles of the Affordable Care Act!”) was more effective than telling the truth (“the GOP is acting consistently with its longstanding principles that comprehensive health insurance is bad and if you don’t have insurance you can go fuck yourself.”) People can become so entranced with the alleged cleverness of Straussian lies that they forget that just telling the truth can also be more strategically effective.

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