Herd Immunity May Depend on Persuading “Conspiracy Believers”

Peter Wehrwein

MHE Publication, MHE May 2021, Volume 31, Issue 5

The supply side of the COVID-19 vaccine rollout has garnered most of the attention. But a recent survey on American beliefs about the vaccines suggests that the bigger problem may be on the demand side of the equation.

The supply side of the COVID-19 vaccine rollout has garnered most of the attention. But a recent survey on American beliefs about the vaccines suggests that the bigger problem may be on the demand side of the equation.

After the pool of “enthusiastic” adults is vaccinated, vaccination rates are likely to start to plateau starting this month, according to Surgo Ventures, a behavioral science and artificial intelligence company. Because of holdouts, only about 52% of Americans will be vaccinated by July, according to Surgo’s projections — well short of the estimated 70% to 90% needed to achieve herd immunity.

The projection is based on the company’s analysis of results of a survey it conducted in March. Based on the respondents’ answers, Surgo groups them into five psychobehavioral categories: enthusiasts, watchful, cost-anxious, system distrusters and conspiracy believers. Surgo’s survey shows the proportion of respondents in the watchful and cost-anxious groups is shrinking compared with an earlier survey, but the proportion of system distrusters (7%) and conspiracy believers (16%) is about the same.

Surgo classifies system distrusters as being persuadable but says some of the conspiracy believers will need to get vaccinated if the U.S. population is to reach herd immunity. The company’s suggestions include tapping trusted figures to communicate risk-benefit ratios of vaccination and giving employees paid time off to get vaccinated.

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