Some discussion emerged yesterday about the relationship between vaccine hesitancy and the tendency of scientific and health authorities to undersell the impact of the vaccine. Scott highlighted a New York Times article which talked about the issue and framed the benefits of a vaccine as much around “you won’t get the ‘Rona” as “even the post-vaccination cases that happen are quite minor.” This reminded me of my daughter’s experience with the chicken pox vaccine, which I wrote about a few years ago and which turned a nasty illness into a mild inconvenience.
As it happens (and podcast listeners may recall this) I’m participating in a trial for the one dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine. I did a local TV spot yesterday about my participation, which has thus far been all-around positive. They edited out some of the discussion of motivation, which stemmed as much from “I don’t want to get sick” and “they’re paying me money” as from “I’m relatively healthy and this is good for humanity.”
More broadly, I think problems like this highlight the complexity of any significant state health project, which tends to sometimes get lost in the “we should listen to scientists!” and “we should listen to health authorities!” First things first, these aren’t the same, and there is almost invariably disagreement amongst the scientific and health communities about policy. Second things second, both scientific and health authorities tend to act as lobbyists within government for certain policy approaches, but that lobbying always has to be understood as strategic and has to be balanced against other policy priorities. As the disaster with masks indicates, public policy response in a crisis is *never* as simple as “do what the scientists say” because science has to be interpreted through a variety of political and bureaucratic lenses that affect the parameters of the possible.