A couple of months ago, I went to Home Depot to return a rented carpet cleaner. Going into the facility, I donned my mask and went to the counter to return the machine. At the checkout counter, there was another customer waiting. He saw my mask and asked me why I was wearing it. I said I was wearing the mask because of the large number of viruses floating around and that I just didn’t want to get sick. It wasn’t even COVID-19 that I was worried about. It was what I was seeing inside and outside of the hospital, as a pediatric intensivist and urgent care physician, that made me more inclined to give myself an extra layer of protection.

Well, that started an uncomfortable conversation that centered around him asking me if I was aware of all the studies that said that masks didn’t work. Then, he asked me if I was in favor of the COVID-19 vaccine. As I mentioned that I was an advocate for the vaccine, he embarked on a tirade about how I was killing people and was being brainwashed. In the heat of the moment, I did not fall back on my argument and persuasion techniques to combat vaccine hesitancy.  I was paralyzed by the fact that a real-life troll entered my personal space outside of the usual social media arenas.

Reframing the Vaccine Conversation

This real-life experience made me truly appreciate the recent podcast episode of “Pediatrics On Call,” sponsored by the American Academy of Pediatrics. The recently published podcast included a discussion about “reframing the vaccine conversation.”

Of the 5 recommended strategies for reframing the way we approach conversations about vaccines with parents, the one that stood out for me was “talking about the benefits of vaccination for the common good.” As a society, we depend upon one another. Our actions impact others. So, with the idea of transmissible infections that can spread through our community and make us sick, it seems reasonable to focus discussions on how vaccines keep the public healthy, which would seem to be an obvious “good” for the public at large.

The public good refers to the well-being and benefit of society, rather than just the interests of individuals or particular groups. It encompasses a wide range of social and economic factors, including access to healthcare, education, clean air and water, public safety, a functioning democratic system, and, of course, public health. In society, individuals and groups have different needs, preferences, and interests. The public good seeks to ensure that the collective interests of society are protected and promoted, even if they conflict with the interests of some individuals or groups.

For example, public investments in infrastructure, such as roads, bridges, and public transportation, can benefit everyone by improving access to jobs, goods, and services. Similarly, public health programs, such as vaccination campaigns and disease surveillance, can help prevent the spread of infectious diseases, benefitting the entire population.

Helping Oneself & Others

Vaccination is one of the most effective public health interventions ever developed. When individuals get vaccinated, they not only protect themselves from getting sick but also help protect those around them who may be unable to get vaccinated, such as infants, the elderly, and people with weakened immune systems. This leads us to a concept that we are all familiar with: herd immunity, or community immunity.

By getting vaccinated, individuals are not only protecting themselves but also contributing to the greater good of society. Vaccination is a social responsibility, and it is important for individuals to understand that their decision to get vaccinated can have a significant impact on the health of their community. The public good is about creating a fair and just society that promotes the well-being of all its members and ensures that everyone has the opportunity to thrive. It requires collective action and a shared commitment to the common good.

By appealing to the principle of the common good and emphasizing that individual choices can have far-reaching consequences, the vaccination discussion becomes one about helping others as much as helping oneself. While this strategy to reframe the vaccine conversation wouldn’t have made much of a difference in my troll encounter at Home Depot, it will likely have an impact on those who are hesitant about vaccines, but reasonable, curious, and looking for a reason to do the right thing.