The route most logical – Responding to the anti-vaxxer problem

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Responding to the anti-vaxxer problem

The anti-vaxxer phenomenon is possibly one of the most contentious issues surrounding the recent pandemic and the medical community in general. As we have all seen, it can cause a significant problem where the workplace is concerned. While wanting to respect the views of those who refuse medicines and treatments out of personal choice, there are many issues surrounding the unvaccinated members of a workforce. The potential for increased absenteeism, as well as close quarters spreading of infection, is ever-present. Compulsory vaccination policies are problematic, to say the least, and an information and volunteer approach is the most likely option for most businesses.

Wild conspiracies and simple misunderstandings

There have always been those who would promote doubt when it comes to any scientific advance. History is littered with examples of groups who disbelieved in proven theory or supported some unfounded wild assumptions masquerading as truth. For the most part, they were harmless fringe ideas or, at worst, cult-like followers of easily dismissed notions. The internet, though, has not only given voice to those who oppose the mainstream but also, somehow, given them enough pseudo-legitimacy to have a considerable ideological impact on a lot of people. Social media, in particular, seems to act as a sort of fertile growbag where a simple misunderstanding can sprout into a full-blown conspiracy or pseudo-science.

It is worth taking a moment to consider the staggering volume of misinformation that drives anti-vaccine sentiment and the level of vitriol it can release. Individual choice is one thing and, for the most part, not an issue. The threats of violence and hatred against medical professionals posted on social media while they are trying to deliver services in a pandemic are another entirely. While the social media platforms themselves have made some effort to ‘truth check’ misinformation posts and ban those who breach their rules, these attacks persist. They are unacceptable regardless of the reason, but when combined with the attempt to disrupt much-needed protection against a rapidly spreading disease, they take on an even more sinister aspect.

Should you try to convert the anti-vaxxer?

The question of whether it is worth the time and effort to try to inform the anti-vaxxer of the truth is a difficult one. On the one hand, you can see the need to consider the wellbeing of the workforce and would hope that your employees are making a decision based on real, empirical evidence and not just supposition. On the other hand, whether we agree or not is with their choice fundamentally, and as an employer, potentially legally, we want to respect the right of choice. It’s a conundrum and one that is not going to resolve easily because just as the pro-vaccination group know they are right, the anti-vaxxers believe the same thing.

Trying to discuss the matter with the irrational, angry fringe that threaten legal action or abuse medical teams is probably a fool’s errand and potentially a dangerous one. If someone behaves this way in the workplace, then the response is likely to be the same as with any other aggressive, threatening or violent behaviour.

While the company policy may be to encourage vaccine take-up, whether you can enforce it to the point of disciplinary or dismissal is something to discuss with your legal advisors. Ideally, teams would routinely take up vaccination as a sensible option. While compulsory demands may not be an option, opening a dialogue to encourage vaccination and present the company position may well be.

  • Focus only on the vaccination question – The anti-vax movement is often promoted by many different groups, from right-wing supremacists through to fringe religions. These ideological standpoints are not the subject of the discussion. Clearly, these are areas to be avoided.
  • Signpost the evidence and legitimate sources – There is a point with all anti-vaccine arguments that the evidence will become dubious, thin, lacking supporting fact, associated with unreliable or extremist sources or even clearly false. This is one of the doors that opens widest when pushed a little. Encouraging investigation of the legitimacy of ‘facts’ may well help.
  • Counter with fact, research, common sense and fill in the gaps – There are numerous holes in the anti-vax argument. Facts such as the number of reported deaths, the reduction in symptoms, how a vaccine works, and so forth can all be used to ground the discussion in reality, not conjecture.

Filling the gaps in knowledge also works well when facilitating an objective viewpoint. For example, the question of how the vaccine was was cleared for use so quickly when it normally takes years is a common objection. The question is a legitimate one; the issue is the leap of false logic to the conclusion that testing was not done fully or properly. Once objectors understand that a vaccine is normally developed as isolated research, whereas this one was developed in a worldwide effort. That it was based on partially finished, existing work. And, that the process of testing was focused and accelerated explains the speed.

The facts that support the vaccine take-up should be enough to combat misinformation for some team members. In the end, people cannot be forced to have the vaccine, and the only real option is to take the route most logical and hope people follow.

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