First, the challenge was developing a vaccine. Now, it's getting people to take it

Posted at 9:20 AM, Dec 08, 2020

In the race towards a COVID-19 vaccine, there have been a lot of hurdles. In the spring months, it was learning about a novel virus: how it spreads and affects the body. Then, it was developing a vaccine that was not only effective but safe.

Now that Pfizer and Moderna have both announced vaccines with nearly 95-percent efficacy, the challenge is not developing one, but rather getting people to actually get the vaccines.

“Maybe 10-15 percent of people are just never going to go get a vaccine because they feel strongly against it,” said Katy Milkman, a professor at the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania.

Earlier in the summer, 72 percent of Americans said they would take a COVID-19 vaccine, according to a study by the Pew Research Center. But in the months that have followed, that number has steadily declined. Now, according to a recent Gallup poll conducted in early November, 42 percent of Americans said they would not get an FDA-approved COVID-19 vaccine.

According to Milkman, that poses a problem since herd immunity requires a high percentage of the population to gain immunity from a virus through either vaccination or antibodies.

Measles, for example, requires 94 percent immunity for herd immunity to be reached. Currently, the immunity percentage for COVID-19 is unknown.

“I think social media companies have done great things around making it possible to share when you go vote, for instance, and making it really visible with ‘I Voted’ stickers,” said Milkman. “I think we should be doing similar things around vaccination [as a way to encourage people to get them].”

Milkman says the goal then is to market the vaccine properly. Former presidents Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush have all said they will very publicly get the vaccine. Milkman also says celebrities will have a major role in instilling similar public confidence.

“Just like a watch, the more people you see wearing an Apple watch, the more excited you are to get your own,” said Milkman. “I would highlight the similarities with other things that we’re comfortable with. All of our kids are getting vaccinations, not all of them, but most of them are getting vaccinations at various stages in their development. We’ve gotten very comfortable with the flu vaccine.”

Transparency is another big thing. Milkman says people might sit on the sidelines if they do not feel comfortable with what they are putting in their bodies, so outlining how the vaccine will work, why it is important, and how it will help the common man, woman, or child will be crucial.