Vaccine Hesitancy and the Absurd Response to Michael Brendan Dougherty

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A healthcare worker holds coronavirus vaccines at a vaccination center in El Paso, Texas, May 6, 2021. (Jose Luis Gonzalez/Reuters)

I spent some time away from Twitter yesterday afternoon only to come back to a torrent of dishonest and lazy criticism directed at Michael Brendan Dougherty (and by extension NRO) for a thoughtful and perfectly reasonable piece on vaccine hesitancy. Given that efforts to reach the vaccine hesitant have come up against a brick wall, he made the startling suggestion that perhaps trying to speak to vaccine skeptics respectably and to understand what is driving their skepticism would be a better approach than treating them like morons. As somebody who has been frustrated with vaccine holdouts, I found his article illuminating. 

One argument I saw deployed against Michael’s piece was that conservatives were somehow acting like crybabies over vaccine skeptics being picked on, and that there is no reason to indulge these conspiracists by treating them with respect. This strikes me as similar to the anger at efforts to understand what drove Trump voters. But there is a key difference. Those who wanted to scoff at Trump voters could do so knowing that Democrats could always take power by making gains among different groups, such as suburbanites. But in this case, the public health goal isn’t about winning a sufficient number of votes in a critical mass of states, but about winning over massive supermajorities in every single state. We all share a country with people who are vaccine hesitant, and so those of us believe that wider vaccination would be a good thing need to think long and hard about how to reach them. 

Another argument I saw deployed was that somehow, to be taken seriously, NRO shouldn’t be running articles about changing how we speak to vaccine skeptics without running articles criticizing other conservatives who are spreading misinformation. But we have run such articles, which people are too lazy to check before trying to performatively dunk on Twitter.

Despite disagreements, some people, such as Chris Hayes, at least acknowledged that the central point of the piece was correct — that clearly our current efforts to reach the hesitant are not working, and we have to discuss new ways to persuade them.

Don’t be like a lazy Twitter critic — go read Michael Brendan Dougherty’s thoughtful piece now