The Vaccine Blog

Should we point to unvaccinated patients who have died as an example?

  1. Introduction


After Alexis Haug got the last raspy-voiced call from her unvaccinated, covid-stricken 51-year-old father, after he was intubated, after she had driven eight hours, alone, to Jasper, Ala., to say her final goodbye to him in the hospital, after she had him cremated and split his ashes with her stepmother and three distraught sisters — that was when she found out what people were saying about him on the Internet.


“Anti-vax — STUPID hill to die on. He died for nothing,” wrote one commenter.


“They get what they deserve,” wrote another.


Those were some of the milder ones……..


 One of her younger sisters posted a comment: “This is my dad. He was a very intelligent individual and very well loved. We as a family should be able to grieve without adults harassing/bullying us during this time.” Another commenter’s response took Haug’s breath away. They wrote to her sister: “I can’t wait to read about you on here.





As these are such large platforms, this rhetoric spreads and really can make an impact on people's lives. In 2022, TikTok had 672 million downloads worldwide, as just a single example .


Also, this rhetoric is certainly not unique to the Internet. In 2021, Halloween fans  found a way to combine this much-celebrated holiday and to mock anti-vaxxers for their scepticism about the COVID-19 vaccines. Several images and videos from across North America have captured the decorations that are adorning some people's homes who have chosen to have a joke at the expense of the anti-vaxxers. One person’s front lawn, pictured by the Twitter account Meanwhile in Canada, shows several gravestones which read “I did my own research”, “Trusted Ivermectin more than Science'' and “Believed it was only the flu


So this shows how deeply this rhetoric has permeated our culture. That's worrying to me. Are we really raising our children and future generations like this? To those who point to unvaccinated patients who have died as an example; have you ever made a bad decision in your life? Are you perfect? I guarantee not.


So this is all hugely concerning to me….


Why? Well, there are a number of reasons. The first thing is this: Nobody deserves to be mocked for having a family member die.




Under any circumstances.


It's deeply immoral, causing increased needless suffering on the part of the family. You know, nobody deserves to be at the funeral of a family member and then posts come up on social media criticising their family member that just died and their family. Not even just criticising. Making fun of. Which is in some ways even worse because it makes light of what might be the worst time in a family's lives. Maybe less so if it's an older family member. However, if it's a younger family member, especially a child, the consequences become way worse.


And is just, well, overall malicious really.


Obviously, some people like dark humour. This is just too dark and really not funny. Now, it is true that humour is one of the most effective ways to engage people and form a community. That said - there`s tasteful humour and tasteless humour. I do think that this is the latter.


2.  We wouldn't do this under other circumstances, and it makes light of devastation that comes with death


But, I hear you say. Actions have consequences. Don`t we need to demonstrate that? And that's true. They do. However, we should. Sometimes devastating consequences, sadly, but let me ask you something;


Would you make fun of a smoker that died of lung cancer, or the many other health issues related to smoking?


A severely obese person who died of coronary heart disease, diabetes, or sleep apnoea?


What about an alcohol or drug addict who died of complications from the addiction?


In each of these cases, I bet the answer if you were totally honest with yourself, would be “no”. In these cases, we usually say “Yes, this person made some bad decisions. However, ultimately a person is still dead. A family is still suffering. They don`t need more pain right now. They certainly don't need to see people making fun of their dead loved ones. Especially not online where everyone can see it.” There`s still a duty of care, Regardless of the specific circumstances in which the patient becomes ill.


There's a line, you know?


This isn't a horror movie; it's people's lives that we're talking about. Not only that, lives that might have changed irreversibly forever. It's impossible to process the death of a loved one without some form of long term impact. If families see people making fun of their dead relatives online, that will scar them forever. It will be the final memory of their loved one.


3 .It just doesn't work


OK, there are certainly a small minority of people who are too extremist and can`t be helped. It's certainly true that being nicer to them certainly won`t help matters. That said, neither will being divisive and mocking. What`is the ultimate goal here? To achieve herd immunity, right? As close to 100% people vaccinated as possible. OK. Changing views requires work, and thus a motivation. Is mocking dead members of a community going to motivate them to listen to you?


Probably not.


Let's flip the script for a moment. Examine a different scenario.


If someone mocked a dead family member of yours, or a dead member of your community, would you be likely to listen to them? I`m not sure about you, but I definitely wouldn`t. I would do everything in my power to avoid them and not engage with them at all. Especially if it was online.


It's much more important to identify and help those in the middle. The “vaccine hesitant”, the fence-sitters, the worried-well`s. They form the biggest group of people who ask questions about vaccines, after all. Isn`t it a much more productive use of time, energy and resources to do that. Not target extremists.


Those who are open to being helped. Those who might be open to hearing more information. Not even vaccinating. Not even scheduling a doctor's appointment. Not yet. Just hearing information. Listening and addressing worries in a positive and empathetic way.


The research supports this too. Multiple studies show that throwing information at people doesn`t make them any more likely to vaccinate. In fact, interestingly, it makes them less likely to, a revelation that really surprised many in the public health sphere. After all, vaccines are one of the most successful health interventions in the history of medicine. Science has held authority for a long time. It hadn't really been questioned by the public. If you opposed a medical intervention, you were assumed to be uneducated, stupid, or both. Therefore giving correct facts would surely solve the problem…….


However it didn`t, and many people were shocked.


  1. So, what does work?


So, this seems slightly pessimistic. Giving information doesn't work. Talking to extremist groups doesn't work. The next logical question is; well, what does work?


Interestingly, it's not so much about the message as it is about who is delivering it. Many studies (linked) show that recruiting trusted members of the community to discuss vaccines is the most effective way to have an impact. So, hairdressers, religious figures in the community. Who do many people interact with on a daily basis? Who do they really trust? I am sure there are countless examples. However, the best spokesperson is going to vary from place to place. It depends on the culture of the area. A highly religious community would be best to have a religious leader advocate for vaccines. A secular area, not so much. The question is; who has the most influence within the community? And approach them about advocating for vaccines. There are many such ways that they do this. For instance, take religious leaders as an example.

Christ Church Georgetown is one of the oldest churches in Washington. It's also where COVID-19 arrived when Reverend Timothy Cole became the city`s first coronavirus patient. This earned him the nickname "patient zero." Cole has been vaccinated, and so has nearly everyone in his parish. He`s urged his parishioners to get the shot for their own health, and for the welfare of others, and he's happy for more faith leaders to do the same. Tim says that "I certainly alerted this community very early to the risks of it and perhaps this community benefited in the long run by you know, being very quick to react. A parishioner states that "that experience made us become very aware , and made us much more cautious and aware of what we should be doing and not doing.



 “The coronavirus has caused death and suffering, affecting the lives of all, especially the most vulnerable,” the pope said, urging those tuning in to not forget those who live in the outskirts of society, particularly seeing that the pandemic has “contributed to worsening existing social and environmental crises, as you young people always remind us.” According to him, every social injustice and marginalisation also affects the environment because “nature and person are united. God the Creator instils in our hearts a new and generous spirit to abandon our individualism and promote the common good: a spirit of justice that mobilises us to ensure universal access to vaccines and the temporary suspension of intellectual property rights; a spirit of communion that allows us to generate a different, more inclusive, just and sustainable economic model.”


At Pope Francis’ request, during the past month, several thousand homeless and needy people from all over Rome have received the Pfitzer vaccine for free, courtesy of the Vatican

And it works. Especially when high profile clergy figures like Pope Francis get involved. Further, Pope Francis doesn't just hold influence within the global Catholic community. He also may hold influence within agnostics who are undecided but still listen to teachings of the Scriptures. The same applies to the two other religious figures, but at a more local level. So arguably it is worth at least trying to engage these people in dialogue around advocating for vaccines. Be it preaching, disseminating information, or vaccinating to inspire other members of their community to do the same.


Now obviously this won't work for everyone around the world. It's like any issue; not everyone is interested. Not everyone can be convinced. Billions of people subscribe to one religion or another. In fact, an article on states that 84% of the world's population identifies with one religion or anothe r. So although faith is diminishing, religion is still a way to reach a community of people. Or some other kind of organised movement that has a global leader. It's about casting as broad a net as possible.


Just one example of research that overwhelmingly supports the involvement of religious and other community leaders in supporting vaccination efforts is an article on

“In April 2021, we surveyed 709 unvaccinated registered voters in South Dakota, a state with a large proportion of Republican voters, rural residents and evangelical Christians.

We wanted to find out whether public health messaging from three different types of leaders – political leaders, medical leaders or religious leaders – might increase the willingness of the unvaccinated population to receive a COVID-19 vaccine. We also wanted to find out which messenger would be most successful in delivering this message.

As a part of the survey, we conducted what social scientists call a “survey experiment,” which is similar to experiments that scientists conduct in laboratories. Participants were randomly assigned into one of four groups: three treatment groups and one control group.

Participants in each of the treatment groups received an identical message encouraging COVID-19 vaccination. This message came either from a political leader, medical leader or a religious leader from South Dakota.

For scientific validity, participants in the fourth group read a short message unrelated to the COVID-19 pandemic (similar to a placebo in a clinical trial). Afterward, all participants answered the same question about their vaccination intentions.

We found that of the three messengers, only the religious messenger succeeded in pushing the interest of the unvaccinated toward getting the shot. Compared to the participants in the control group, those who received a message from the religious leader showed a 12% greater likelihood of getting vaccinated. We also saw that messaging from a religious leader increased evangelical Christians’ interest in getting vaccinated by 14% compared with those in the control group.”


  1. How a values-based approach may be better


Let's switch gears away from religion now, to look at a study in Freomantle (“Freo”), Western Australia in 2014, conducted by the political scientist Katie Attwell from the University of Western Australia. Interestingly, she herself is part of this “eco-ethical lifestyle community”, as Maya Goldenberg writes in her book Vaccine Hesitancy .  The “I immunise” campaign was a values-based approach to promoting vaccination. What does that mean exactly?


Freomantle is a community known for its “natural living” lifestyle. This includes  home birthing, naturopathy, growing vegetables, and as would be expected, low vaccination rates.  The study was an advertisement campaign that featured members of the community, including Attwell herself. Beneath the people were slogans that implied that they integrated vaccination into the natural living lifestyle typical of Freomantle. For instance, one read “I use cloth nappies, I eat wholefoods, and I immunise”. Another: “ I use cloth nappies, I grow veggies and I immunise”. One last example: “I breastfeed, I use homoeopathy, and I immunise”.


The bold “I immunise” suggested that it is not against the values of the community to vaccinate. Including aspects of the lifestyles of community members with immunisation normalises it within the community, in a way. It isn't wrong. It isn't bad. You`re not strange, odd, weird, or anything else within the eyes of the community if you vaccinate. I think that was really key


It also included an “I immunise” website that  viewers of the ads could visit for more detailed information about community members' stories.


That might move the needle in the right direction. That said, the same thing won't work for everyone. There are far too many variables between people. It's a common trend that people are more open to information if they feel empathised with first. However, the best way to do this is to hear messages from someone they can relate to, and respect. So I believe that that's the best approach to take.




  1. Conclusion


I`ll sum up short and sweet. “The problem” (ie. vaccine uptake) isn`t always the problem. It can also be how we talk about the problem. I think that's something we can all apply to all aspects of life.



  1. References


2. 1/10/06/779488e6-20ad-11ec-8200-5e3fd4c49f5e_story.html

3. Anti-vaxxers are being mocked by Halloween decorations that feature pro-vax messages | indy100

4. TikTok - Statistics & Facts | Statista

5. Faith Leaders Join Efforts to Promote Covid-19 Vaccines - YouTube

6. Pope Francis Doubles Down in Press for Equity in Vaccine Distribution - The Tablet


8. For some people, religious leaders might be most effective at communicating the importance of COVID-19 vaccination

9. Maya Goldenberg- Vaccine Hesitancy

10.I Immunise: An evaluation of a values-based campaign to change attitudes and beliefs - ScienceDirect




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