Janelle De Souza
Although TT is experiencing its third pandemic wave with record numbers, many people are still hesitant to get vaccinated and some are ignoring health restrictions imposed to keep people safe.
On Friday alone, TT recorded its highest number of daily covid19 cases to date with 984 cases – the previous highest number was 781 on November 17. In addition, TT surpassed its record 24-hour death toll on two separate occasions, with 28 deaths on November 20 and 31 on November 25.
Yet people continue to whitewash and party, wear their masks under their noses and are generally unaware of health protocols and refuse to be vaccinated.
Mental health professionals say some of the behaviors are not just stubborn people, and what the government needs to do is listen to people and change its communications strategy.
Behavioral health consultant Dr Stacy Murray explained that whatever people nurture their minds is expressed through their thinking and behavior.
Therefore, four of the many reasons people may reject vaccinations and covid19 health protocols include:
1. Conspiracy theories. Some people have a conformational bias, so they seek out any information to back up what they believe and reject all positive claims about vaccines.
2. Learned helplessness.
âIt’s a belief that, ‘It’s out of my control. It doesn’t matter what I do, so what’s the point of fighting it? I will have to die someday anyway. They become insensitive to what is going on around them.
3. Herd mentality. There are those who maybe don’t have their own personal beliefs or don’t know what to believe, so they go with the crowd because the majority say not to take the vaccine.
4. Bias of optimism. There are people who think they are immune to covid19 or if they catch it their case will be mild.
âThey feel like Hulk, Superman, and Wonder Woman. It can’t do a thing to them so they could go out without their mask on, they could go to parties and all these different things and they won’t understand.
“These are people who may have been exposed to people who had the virus and who weren’t infected, so they’re like, ‘Yeah man, my immune system is strong.’ Because of this mentality, their behavior will display this kind of attitude.
Murray said that in order to reach these people it is necessary to change their belief systems, which is difficult. Therefore, it is important to change the way information on covid19 is disseminated.
âRight now we are using fear tactics. Research has shown that once we use fear to try to persuade people to do something, we will have the opposite effect. And once you introduce fear tactics into a population, you’re going to meet resistance. “
She said the tactic would work with some people, but it didn’t work with the mass vaccination campaign. Instead, authorities will need to understand people at their level and eradicate negative beliefs from people. She stressed that everyone has their own reasons for not wanting to get the vaccine or not following protocols, so one strategy won’t work for everyone.
âWe have to use tactics that aren’t strict, that don’t threaten people’s jobs, that don’t use fear. Communication strategies need to be humanistic, more positive, more subtle, letting people know that we know it is their right to choose.
She said if people’s rights are ignored or if they feel they have no choice, they will resist. Authorities need to make people feel comfortable and respected so that they can be subtly persuaded.
She added that separating the vaccinated from the unvaccinated is a form of discrimination and that the group that feels victimized can retaliate.
âI think it’s going to have negative consequences if we continue to separate the vaccinated from the unvaccinated. It’s going to end up forming some kind of conflict. “
Clinical therapist Hanif Benjamin agreed that this is a behavior issue since Trinidadians and Tobagonians are naturally social people who calm down, hug, touch and kiss when they meet. .
âIt’s not just a medical emergency. This is a behavioral emergency. We ask people to stop doing the things that come naturally to them. It’s almost like we have to do cognitive behavioral therapy across a whole country. We ask people to behave in ways that are not normal, so the conversation has to form a behavioral approach. “
For example, he said the children had been away from school for almost two years and that the only time they would wear a mask would be when they left home. Now they are asked to wear a mask all day at school.
âFrom a behavioral standpoint, how do you think it’s going to work? “
He also believed that âsafe zonesâ implied that people would be safe there, creating a false sense of security because, although the risk was lower in vaccinees, they could still contract and spread covid19.
âI think the message we should be sending people is that nowhere is safe, and I don’t hear that. We have to operate as if everyone, every situation is related to covid. This in itself will help change a behavior.
He stressed that he was “100% for the vaccine,” that he and his family had been vaccinated and that he was encouraging and arranging for others to do so as well. However, he said vaccination is only one tool to help the country.
âWe have to tell people what they are and say, ‘Listen here. We know vaccines aren’t perfect, we know circumstances aren’t perfect, but it’s the best option we have and it’s what we have as a tool to use to save lives until that better can be done. In the meantime, we still have to be tough on security.
He added that not everyone who is hesitant to get vaccinated is not anti-vaccine. Many are scared and confused because they receive conflicting information from friends and on social media, and information from the Department of Health and the World Health Organization changes rapidly as more is discovered in addition to the virus.
Therefore, the authorities must listen to people differently.
“Rather than telling people that they are anti-vaccine and making them feel like they’re not patriots, and that they need to put the country first and all kinds of nonsense, we need to listen to them and their give the information they need.
âThe country has reached a peak in terms of vaccination. If we are to push the country to immunize most adults, we need to start a different dialogue. “
He added that children should be included in the conversation, and it should be emphasized that even the vaccinated must have personal responsibility.
He suggested that everyone create a âcircle of influenceâ where each individual has people around them and makes sure everyone in that circle is practicing a routine. For example, remember and make sure everyone disinfects themselves after entering a vehicle each time, or handles ear loop masks and then disinfects each time.
In addition, people should leave the house with deliberation, with a purpose. If a person goes to the grocery store, have a list, come in, shop, and come home. Don’t drive around, look for other places or people to visit.
âIf it is that a behavioral approach can change mindsets, we have to practice. And if we take charge of our individual circle of influence, we reduce the risk.
Regarding those who do not obey the regulations, he said not everyone will understand the information disseminated by the authorities and the traditional media. The information should therefore be disaggregated in such a way that the average person can understand it.
Then there are people who, unless they smell and see and taste something, and they are not personally affected, they would not care.
âThey are surrounded by daily press conferences and international media, people who had covid and who couldn’t breathe and who thought they were going to die. Yet people are still nonchalant because it hasn’t happened to them. “
He added that he believes children shouldn’t have to go to school all day. That citizens do not live in normal times trying to adjust to a normal program in an abnormal scenario should not be done.