CMDA's The Point

Vaccine Resistance and Public Health Messaging

May 6, 2021
Trusting Vaccines November 29, 2018

by Jonathan Imbody

The Washington Post recently published my commentary below in response to an article (“‘I’m still a zero’: Vaccine-resistant Republicans warn that their skepticism is worsening”) that examined the vaccine hesitancy of conservatives. I aimed simply to explain a divergent point of view that many Americans hold about COVID vaccines—one that rejects the messages of U.S. public health agency officials:

“Conservatives who value limited government, federalism and checks on individual power will disdain what they view as vaccination propaganda from partisan politicians who have used the pandemic as a blatant power grab. Trump supporters won’t abide vaccination rhetoric of public health officials such as Anthony S. Fauci, who publicly dissed President Donald Trump.

“Conservatives also respect conscience convictions. While I have received the Moderna vaccine and have written of ethical and practical reasons for taking the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines, I understand the apprehensions of conservative colleagues who voice concerns about the use of a fetal cell line in testing, the new mRNA technology and the lack of longitudinal studies.

“Conservative vaccine resisters view the ‘impending doom‘ pandemic rhetoric of this administration as alarmist, manipulative, condescending and coercive. Some, however, may still respond to respectful, common-sense messages from trusted faith leaders and local health experts who can reasonably and transparently lay out the risks of coronavirus vaccination vs. infection.”

Public health officials no doubt have been learning what private practice doctors have known for a long time: Patients don’t always just take your orders. You have to first treat them as dignified individuals with free agency, then appeal to their reason and self-interest. If you work to stop smoking, you will add years to your life and make sure your children have a father as they grow up. If you step up the exercise and trim down the desserts, you’ll help avoid diabetes and a lifetime of insulin injections.

Physicians of faith especially realize that healthcare is so much more than analyzing data and prescribing medications. As a person of faith who recognizes the image of God in every single individual, you see your patients as human beings of inestimable value—not as mere appointments on your daily schedule or data points in your statistical analyses.

Communication and relationship are central to healthcare. Healthcare professionals who appreciate this and treat their patients accordingly can expect to see greater receptivity to prescribed courses of action and better health outcomes in their patients.

Public health officials who may have spent most of their careers in the lab, in academia or in government agencies, with limited contact with individual patients, would do well to seek the counsel of health professionals who see patients on a daily basis. Learning how people think and what motivates them to respond is key to any public health endeavor.

Meanwhile, we remain thankful for the intrepid work of so many dedicated public health officials, who have faced a tremendously challenging learning curve with this pandemic as well as an extremely challenging social environment in which to get their messages across to the public. Their service and provision of evidence and solutions has doubtless saved many lives.

When the best efforts of public health officials and national public health messages fail to connect with the public, it falls to doctors and other health professionals in local communities—those who have personal relationships with their patients—to provide trustworthy and respectful communication to save even more lives.

About Jonathan Imbody

Jonathan serves as Director of Federal Government Relations with CMDA and directs the Christian Medical Association's Washington Office. As CMA's liaison with the federal government, he has participated in over 30 White House meetings and events and makes over 200 personal contacts with Congressional leaders and government officials each year. Jonathan testified on euthanasia and assisted suicide before a U.S. Senate committee. A veteran writer of more than 30 years, Jonathan authored Faith Steps, which encourages and equips Christians to engage in public policy issues. He has published more than 100 commentaries in The Washington Post, USA Today, New York Times, Los Angeles Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Chicago Sun-Times and many other national publications. World magazine featured his essay summarizing the major medical accomplishments and challenges of the past millennium. He has also written numerous magazine articles, marketing materials and educational curricula. Jonathan's writing focuses on public policy issues including freedom of faith, conscience and speech; human trafficking; abortion; assisted suicide; stem cell research; the role of faith in health; international health; healthcare policy; sexual risk avoidance and HIV/AIDS. His on-site research on euthanasia in the Netherlands formed the basis for the No Mercy video and a presentation at an international conference in The Hague. Jonathan received his bachelor's degree in journalism and speech communications from the Pennsylvania State University, a master's degree from Penn State in counseling and education and a certificate in biblical and theological studies from the Alliance Theological Seminary in New York. Jonathan's wife Amy is an author and leads the Redemptive Education movement. They have four children and four grandchildren.

2 Comments

  1. Kevin Lawson on June 2, 2021 at 11:17 pm

    Well said. As a 61 yr old clinical physician I took the Moderna Vaccine in Jan. My children healthy and in their 20s see only risks and do not want it. I am in agreement with their decision for now as their risk from virus is minimal and the risks of the Vaccine long term of a new type are unknown. No one should be coerced.

  2. Dwight Hastings, DDS on June 3, 2021 at 9:42 am

    Very good commentary: simple and factual without criticism. Thank you, Jonathan!

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