A simple conversation among strangers may be the key to COVID vaccine hesitancy

By Dennis Archambault

Health advocates have tried almost everything to move people from misinformed beliefs to adopting the COVID vaccine. Traditional health education, social marketing – even sweepstakes, have been largely ineffective in breaking the stubborn resistance to the vaccine. Darren Nichols, a contributing writer for the Detroit Free Press, did something many people are reluctant to do: confront a stranger with a recommendation.

As he tells his story, he talked with an Uber driver about the COVID vaccination while traveling in Detroit. When Nichols learned that his driver was not vaccinated – he was – he thought about what he should do: “Like so many of us who learned along the way not to offer ride was going to end without me telling this young lady how dangerous her reasoning was.”

Nichols’ passion for health is informed by his survival after a massive stroke. His objectiveness as a trained journalist gave way to engagement. “When she pulled into my driveway, I waited for her to face me and delivered my message as simply and succinctly as I could: Life is precious. And my driver was risking hers until she got vaccinated and protected herself from the dozens of strangers who would be sharing her vehicle in the days to come.”

So thoughtfully, and sensitively stated. The driver apparently listened courteously yet made no comment.

Nichols noted that 60 percent of Detroiters remain totally unvaccinated against COVID. Sadly, Detroit isn’t even the worst city. According to Nichols, as of late last week, only 39.9 percent have been fully vaccinated in Atlanta; 43.8 percent in Houston; 45.1 percent in New Orleans, and 57 percent in Chicago.

He went on to cite a successful Baltimore program called VALUE: “Vaccine Acceptance and Access Lives in Unity, Education, and Engagement.” The program trains community ambassadors to talk to their peers – often in their native languages – about the safety and urgency of getting vaccinated.

Maybe that’s what it will take: simple conversations among strangers.

Authority Health is doing its part to reach folks where they are in the neighborhoods, especially those who live in the margins of society. We are disappointed that we may only vaccinate a dozen people during an outing, but we’re realistic. This pandemic has been a struggle for the hearts and minds of Americans. The vaccination push is no different. If more people like Nichols take a polite, civil approach to talking to a stranger about the vaccine, we may begin to minimize vaccine hesitancy.

Dennis Archambault is vice president of Public Affairs for Authority Health.