There is a saying in computer science: garbage in, garbage out. In short, it means that if your input is lousy, your output will be, too.
This also holds true for communication and the exchange of information. If your premise is flawed and built on a shaky foundation, then you will not be able to carry out a sound and reasoned discussion no matter the topic.
Last week, an Emergency Use Authorization was given by the United States Food and Drug Administration for a coronavirus vaccine and the first doses made their way to healthcare facilities across the county on Monday. In the United Kingdom, vaccinations are already underway and, with very few exceptions, the rollout has been without incident.
While more than half the population are breathing a collective sigh of relief and have indicated that they will receive the vaccine when it becomes available to them, healthcare officials may have an uphill battle getting the rest of the population to also get in line.
Early on in the pandemic, conspiracy theories about the coronavirus began to take hold. On social media platforms such as TikTok, random people—all without a degree of any kind—took to the internet to “warn” people about a plot to control the population through vaccines. Remember Plandemic – the debunked conspiracy theory that the coronavirus was manufactured as a way to force mind-controlling injections disguised as vaccines onto people? It sounds crazy, but sadly, people believed it and probably still do.
The success of a vaccine, in large part, depends on a high rate of acceptance. According to Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, between 75 and 85 percent of the population need to become vaccinated in order for the pandemic to retreat and to ensure a return to normal that people so desperately want.
A recent Gallup survey shows that roughly 6 in 10 people are willing to get the coronavirus vaccine. That is short of what is needed, but it is better than the 50 percent that answered the same question just a few short months ago. The study also found that Democrats (75 percent) were more willing than Republicans (50 percent) to be vaccinated and that non-white adults (53 percent) and those ages 45 to 64 (52 percent) were among those least willing to receive a vaccination.
While it may seem as if there is a contingent of Americans who are impervious to scientific facts (think climate change and who really won the 2020 presidential election), it is vitally important that a national communication strategy be developed to manage not only the flow of actual information, but also to combat the groundswell of misinformation that is bubbling just below the surface.
One fact that is hard to dispute is that more than 300,000 people have now died of the virus with between 2,000 and 3,000 people now dying every day. Every day.
In 1956, Elvis Presley famously received the polio vaccination on camera as a way to encourage more Americans to do the same. At least three former presidents have said they would be willing to take the coronavirus vaccine on camera as a way to ease potential fears. But without clear and consistent messaging, attempts to reach the American people are likely to be lost in the fractured media landscape.
We urge our congressional delegation to push for a nationwide communication strategy and for our state officials to develop strong messaging around the need for all Mainers to get vaccinated. We remind those officials to meet people where they are with a cross section of methods and with the use of multiple social media and online platforms for dissemination. And finally, we urge them to employ as many people as possible to spread the message. Trusted messengers will be critically important in the coming days and weeks.