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'Shame and blame don't work' if you want more people vaccinated, says psychologist

Individual gets the COVID-19 vaccine. (7News File Photo)
Individual gets the COVID-19 vaccine. (7News File Photo)
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There is a growing divide between the vaccinated and unvaccinated with each side doubling down on COVID-19 convictions.

Clinical psychologist Dr. Amy Bowers says things can be done to help ease the growing tension. For months, we’ve heard government and health officials reiterate a strong message. From Maryland Governor Larry Hogan’s “just get the damn vaccine” to Dr. Anthony Fauci encouraging shots.

“Let’s get as many people vaccinated as quickly as we possibly can,” Fauci said during a press conference.

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President Joe Biden was forceful in his joint address to Congress in April when he said, “Go get vaccinated, America!” Vaccinated or unvaccinated, your reaction to the messaging might be the same.

“Too heavy-handed can cause reactions of kind of, ‘Too much. I’m sick of hearing this,’ whether you’ve done it or not,” said Bowers.

She said messaging from officials should be consistent, but another approach is also needed. Meeting people where they are without pointing fingers.

“Because shame and blame don’t work,” Dr. Bowers told 7News Health Reporter Victoria Sanchez. “They only make people mad or upset or reactive. And just information itself about, ‘Vaccines are good. Vaccines are what you need to do,’ that’s not where we’re going to meet people who haven’t had the vaccine yet and who are resistant or unwilling or hesitant or concerned or uncertain about what it would mean to get the vaccine.”

Finding out the reason behind not getting the shot could help explain what’s going through the decision-making process for the unvaccinated.

“That’s important to recognize, that it’s not one thing for all people,” she explained.

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Some people might have a fear of needles, fear of the medical community, fear of the vaccine itself, or are confused by the misinformation spreading on social media.

“Other psychologists have done research that not everyone engages in health-positive thinking or health-positive decision making or behaviors. So, we all know, not necessarily related to the vaccine, we probably shouldn’t drink a lot of alcohol, or we maybe shouldn’t smoke cigarettes, or we shouldn’t vape, or we should really be flossing our teeth. And while we may know that, not all of us engage in those actions. That’s very, a part of being a human with any health-positive actions,” she explained.

There is a big difference between flossing and the pandemic.

“Individual’s decisions not to take the vaccine, affect all of us,” Bowers said soberly.

SEE ALSO | Half of US workers favor employee shot mandate, poll finds

What about those who got the shot and still need to follow COVID restrictions? “It’s natural to be frustrated. I hear this from many people that they just feel dispirited, discouraged,” she said.

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COVID-19 is putting nearly everyone on edge. Dr. Bowers said it is time to try to bridge the growing gap between the vaccinated and unvaccinated to finally pull us through the pandemic.

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