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Their View: Mocking vaccine resisters isn't helping

Their View: Mocking vaccine resisters isn't helping

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You’ve likely seen the headlines about COVID-19 killing radio hosts and activists who opposed vaccines and masks. Several of those headlines were about Caleb Wallace, a Texan who helped organize a “freedom rally” this summer to protest mask-wearing. Some corners of the internet reacted with ridicule to news of his death last month, sparing no thought to Wallace’s grieving wife and daughters.

It’s important that we all resist the impulse to scream, “I told you so!” Yes, it’s maddening to find ourselves swept up in yet another wave of COVID-19 cases eight months into the rollout of vaccines that should have ended this pandemic by now. But every death is a tragedy and should be treated as such.

Mocking vaccine skeptics who’ve been fed misinformation won’t convince people on the fence to get vaccinated. Our inclination should be to show others that we care about them, not to win an argument.

Dallas County has been bombarding people with opportunities to get vaccinated. We appreciate officials’ unrelenting efforts to expand access to the vaccine, but their main hurdle now is resistance to the science and to the messengers. The tone of the message matters greatly.

A Census Bureau survey and polling from the Kaiser Family Foundation show that concerns about side effects or the newness of the vaccine and distrust in the government rank among the top reasons why people are hesitant to get the shots.

Yes, there are relentless vaccine skeptics whose foolish actions demonstrate they’re immune to reason. But the loud ones don’t represent all. Sherri Mixon, executive director of the T.R. Hoover Community Development Center in South Dallas, said she’s heartbroken because an unvaccinated family in her circle is both grieving a father who died from COVID-19 and watching two adult sons struggle to survive in the hospital.

Mixon said people in her community can be leery when officials share information with them suddenly instead of gradually.

“When this pandemic hit, a lot of the information didn’t hit the doorsteps or mailboxes of the folks of this community,” she told us. “That’s the reason we took charge to search the net and call different agencies and provide that information out in [vaccine] registration lines.”

The demographic groups that government officials are targeting for vaccination should be involved in crafting the message, Mixon said.

Leslie Armijo, an Oak Cliff community advocate who’s been promoting the vaccine all year, said some of the reluctance among Hispanic families in this area stems from confusion about whether insurance is required and fear that personal data could be shared with immigration authorities. Having leaders from President Joe Biden to Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins constantly assure people that this data sharing is not happening would help some families feel more comfortable, Armijo told us.

When Armijo’s neighbors justify their hesitancy based on myths, she said she tries to understand their feelings and share facts. It’s one thing to indulge a conspiracy theory, and it’s another to recognize that someone’s views are wrong but that their fears are sincere.

We should learn from Armijo’s approach: “I also take no for an answer,” she told us. “It may not be that first time, or that second encounter or the third encounter, but hopefully if they keep having positive encounters with people who are promoting vaccines, eventually it will have some kind of effect.”

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