Canada has one of the highest Covid-19 vaccination rates in the world, including 86.8% of the eligible (12+) population in Toronto having received at least a single dose of the Covid-19 vaccine. With the necessary health & safety protocols and precautions being taken, Toronto has been able to come out of lockdown and open most of its businesses and institutions to the public. To the general populace, the vaccine has been a major asset in our return to a somewhat normal lifestyle like before the pandemic hit. This is a major point of controversy, however, for some small, yet highly vocal, insular communities. These people who are openly against the vaccine are often met with harsh pushback, which tends to reinforce their beliefs and further radicalize them.
“Anti-vaxxers”, as they are often referred to, can be defined as individuals who are wholesale against the government’s administration of vaccines, or at the very least, against mandating them to the public. There are a variety of reasons as to why people might choose to identify as “anti-vax,” ranging from socio-political factors, to even their religious beliefs. For instance, the growing prevalence of alternative media sources such as YouTube commentators and pundits, who foster cult-like echo chambers, is a possible source for why anti-vax sentiments continue to grow. Within these communities, influencers are able to profit of off misinformation by peddling miracle drugs or essential oils, while at the same time discouraging or even finding ways to get exempt from getting vaccine shots.
It is often the case that these beliefs are ideologically rather than logically driven, meaning that individuals who hold these beliefs come to their conclusions first (that vaccines are inherently bad) and work backwards from there to derive the evidence to support these claims. These fixed positions can oftentimes be traced back to a fundamental distrust of the government. It can be easy to view the government as a whole as some faceless entity or “bogeyman,” and this line of thinking can lead to people being more apprehensive or critical about its decisions, especially when it affects them personally. In the eyes of the anti-vaxxer, it is very likely that they might dislike the vaccine mandates because they dislike the idea of the government telling them what to do. It is also quite likely that when anti-vaxxers are approached by someone around them, who is instantly combative towards them and attacks their beliefs from the onset, they might view these people similarly to how they view the government. As a result, anti-vaxxers will descend further into the insular communities, where they are welcomed and safe, thus further validating their beliefs and radicalizing them in the process.
The point that I am trying to make, essentially, is that when you are talking with an anti-vaxxer, antagonizing them is not going to suddenly make them take the vaccine. Instead, you should try to educate them by actually listening to their arguments and clearing up any misconceptions they may have. Being condescending or dismissive of their arguments will put them on the defensive and make them less likely to hear you out. I will caveat this by saying that if you, yourself, do not have a decent understanding of the vaccine, or at the very least can’t give a clear reason why you should take the vaccine, then you probably you shouldn’t even be discussing this topic with an anti-vaxxer in the first place; at that point leave it to someone who is more equipped for that sort of conversation.
Though many of you will already have heard this phrase numerous times by now, I’ll say it again, Attack the idea, not the individual. They could perceive their denial of the vaccine as a means for them to attain some measure of control against the government, where they believe they have none. Even if you think this sounds iditiotic or something that doesn’t really matter, you also have to consider that for some people, this means everything.
As hard as it might be, try to understand why anti-vaxxers might think this way. It might even allow you to improve your own arguments and appeal to the right points. Regardless of whatever I said before, one idea that I want to leave you with is that most people who are against the vaccine don’t actually want to hurt or endanger people out of some sadistic or cruel desire to do so. Think of them as people and treat them as such, rather than as the embodiment of anti-vax beliefs. In spite of this, always keep in mind the health and safety of the general public by not giving credence to anti-vax talking points and pushing back in a cordial and appropriate manner.