With the FDA approval of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine and the continued surge of the delta variant, governments across the world have renewed their push to increase the number of vaccinated individuals by persuading the holdouts. On Sept. 9, 2021, President Joe Biden announced sweeping vaccine mandates, expressing frustration at the vaccine holdouts: “We’ve been patient, but our patience is wearing thin. And your refusal has cost all of us.”
As a communication scientist who has studied the effects of media and health campaigns for the past 30 years, I worry that a fevered pitch in vaccine messaging may make the holdouts even more resistant. The direct, blunt messages to go get vaccinated that worked on three-quarters of Americans may not work for the remaining one-quarter. If anything, they might backfire.