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11:55am on Wednesday, 5th May, 2021:
I was speaking to one of my Swedish students yesterday. He was coming out of the inoculation centre, having just had his second (Moderna) vaccination.
As the student is in his early 20s, I was somewhat surprised by this. In the UK, those in their 20s don't get a vaccine yet unless they have (or work/live with people who have) underlying health conditions or are front-line medical staff. Even people in their 20s who work in vaccine production facilities don't get the jab, which seems a little short-sighted to me but I'm not in charge. How come a Swede in his 20s got the vaccine?
I asked him, and he said that so many older people weren't taking the offer of vaccination that if you are in your 20s and want one, you can have one. I don't know the extent to which that's true, but I can certainly believe it.
The approach taken in the UK has been quite clever, I think. The authorities started off by offering the vaccine to those who worked for the NHS or in care homes or who were most at risk. The "most at risk" for COVID-19 are the elderly. The age at which vaccination was offered was then gradually lowered, so younger people could get it when their turn came (currently, you can get one if you're 40 or over).
Naturally, a bunch of people came along with edge cases arguing that their particular group (teachers, for example) needed to be allowed to be inoculated ahead of people not in that group who were older. The authorities held firm, however, and only opened up vaccination on a by-age basis.
This was a super-smart move. The people who were vaccinated first were all old enough to know the benefits of vaccination, having seen the effect it had on eradicating polio, and they were also in actual danger of dying if they contracted COVID-19. They were almost certain to take up the offer of a vaccine immediately. People younger than them saw the vaccine being offered but not to them, so felt they were missing out. They waited impatiently for their turn. If they'd been offered a vaccination from the get-go, they might have procrastinated, but when they're not being offered something that other people are being offered, well they want it! Thus, when it came to their turn, you bet they had their vaccination: they felt it was their right. Being made to wait for it wasn't fair!
This leveraging of indignance has paid dividends. The take-up of vaccination in the UK is exceptionally high as a result, except perhaps among communities with a culture that's less individualistic and more collective in its philosophy. The benefits of being vaccinated are plain to see, with infections dropping like a stone. We'll have herd immunity in a couple of months.
What impresses me most about this is that it was likely planned that way. The government's scientific advisory panels include psychologists and sociologists, and will have discussed the mechanisms by which people could be encouraged to be vaccinated. Making them wait for their turn rather than allowing anyone with a special-case story to jump the queue seems to have worked.
Having access to big supplies of vaccine also helps, of course, but if people are wary of being inoculated then it doesn't really matter how large your stocks are.
It turns out that some academics actually know their stuff. Who'd have thought?
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