An old wisdom is currently being reworded a little. It now reads: If the arm does not come to the needle, the needle will come to the arm. There are low-threshold, pretty much everywhere and for everyone available vaccination offers in the current campaign week: hardware store, station forecourt, sports field, pedestrian zone, tram, mosque.
The goal is to overcome the 62 percent hurdle, so soon to have significantly more than those who vaccinated less than two thirds of the population against Covid-19.
What is happening now was more than expected
But it is actually surprising that many are now so surprised at the fact that immunization is no longer advancing as quickly. Because the trend follows well-known economic and sociological principles. One of them is that a tight supply fuels high demand – and vice versa. At first there was hardly any vaccine, but almost everyone seemed to want it. Now there is a lot – and there is less demand. Another such law is that of “diminishing marginal yield”.
In a nutshell, it means that with the same marketing effort, fewer and fewer new customers will want to have a product. And the so-called Pareto principle also seems to be working. According to him, 80 percent of the results of a work process are achieved by using just 20 percent of the workload. And for the remaining 20 percent, 80 percent of the total effort is required.
Alleged alternatives in the vaccination country
In addition, there are a few other laws, such as the fact that in free societies, marketing or campaigns always generate counter-marketing and counter-campaigns. Behind this can be market participants who themselves have a competing product to offer. But actors who, driven by other interests, convictions and ideologies, want to reduce the success of a product or service also play a role. Campaigns against fast food restaurants, for example, are usually not backed by star chefs, but rather by environmental and animal welfare organizations.
In the case of the vaccination campaign, the latter includes people and parties with political interests – especially those who believe they have an “alternative” to the “established”. In addition, there are those who are honestly convinced of the poor quality or even harmfulness of the product “Corona vaccination”.
It’s 80 to 20
For a vaccination campaign, if one wanted to follow these “laws” consistently, one could at least conclude that it is anything but surprising that it does not run linearly from the first to the last potential vaccinee. But what consequences would be logical? Would one have to reduce the supply again in order for the demand to rise again? Or should the decreasing marginal yield be countered with new marketing strategies? Or do you see that with 80 percent – almost exactly the value of “reached” people who were previously also allowed to be vaccinated – a lot more effort will be required for the remaining 20 percent?
Economic and sociological “laws” are not laws of nature, but rather crisply formulated empirical values. They do not always apply 1: 1, and the complex reality sometimes brings with it factors that are at least disturbing. But they often turn out to be quite reliable after all. The fact that a vaccination “action week” is running also suggests that these laws are well known.
Declining marginal yield
Because artificially shortening the vaccine is basically out of the question. So you have to – unless you want to use compulsion, keyword vaccination – better advertise it, facilitate access, counter the negative counter-marketing with convincing new pro-marketing.
This week, we really try to do that with easier access, accompanied by sausages and other incentives. But in the last few weeks and months, access between the vaccination center, family doctor and many other offers was not exactly difficult. Even employers have to approve vaccinations, unlike in many other countries. And even before the action week there were numerous similar actions, with sometimes quite sobering results. In the Bratwurstland Thuringia, for example – as reported on Tuesday by Deutschlandfunk – several weeks of such an offensive brought as many vaccinations as were administered in one day in vaccination centers in the state. There is hardly a better example of a “marginal yield” falling despite increased expenditure.
What works And what is stalling?
“I doubt that the bratwurst stand in the hardware store parking lot works,” says Erfurt professor for health communication Cornelia Betsch. But what options then remain – besides vaccination requirements or massive restrictions for unvaccinated people?
Convincing communication is one of the answers. That sounds good. And it’s difficult. Convincing short, slogan-like advertising on large posters? Do celebrities convince as vaccinators – an idea that is making the rounds again these days? Are the horrific images of intensive care units convincing? Convincing arguments, study results. Are “facts” convincing?
In fact, according to Betsch’s latest study, around 61 percent of parents do not feel reliably informed in order to make decisions about their offspring with a clear conscience. But a high level of information and transparency can also be harmful, says Katrin Schmelz, behavioral economist at the University of Konstanz. The factual situation about the AstraZeneca vaccine, which at the time changed almost daily, is an example.
Communication professionals are far from agreed on other aspects as well. Felix Rebitschek from the University of Potsdam has his doubts that ubiquitous “up your sleeves” posters, for many of those who were previously simply too sluggish to roll it up, flush it into practices and vaccination centers. Not to mention the effect on people who are actively skeptical or negative about vaccinations. The people addressed “did not react well to attempts at advertising and pushing,” says the risk literacy expert.
He finds more promising – even if a few more words are used for this on a poster or in a TV commercial than for a short slogan, balanced and also perceived as balanced information. This could be done in the form of fact boxes, which in addition to the advantages also name the risks.
Perhaps the efforts that are now required to “convince” the lazy and hesitant, the skeptics, are often counterproductive and generate more resistance – and resistance to facts. After all, who, if you’re honest, likes to be convinced? To debate with someone who already has an opinion and to shower him or her with arguments rarely changes someone, the psychologist Karin Tamerius recently told the “New York Times”. On the other hand, there is a chance if one “listens carefully and not judgmental and shows compassionate understanding”. Facts and information should only be “offered” when the person is “ready”.
The role (s) of doctors
Whether and how well this can be done without studying psychology on the vaccination mobile in the parking lot in Hildburghausen, one can ask. But in private contact with family members, neighbors, friends, it may be worth a try. Cornelia Betsch sees potential in the doctors above all. Professional societies, for example, could provide their members with concrete help for exchanges with patients even better than before. According to the latest recommendations regarding vaccinations during pregnancy, this now applies particularly to gynecologists. However, according to Betsch on Monday in a press conference organized by the Science Media Center, there are also quite a few doctors who actively and successfully promote vaccination skepticism.
But maybe a look at countries that are more successful at vaccinating can help? Spain, for example, where more than 80 percent have already been vaccinated twice, has maintained the vaccination sequence for significantly longer than Germany. It is possible that this shortage of supply helped keep demand high.
Inimitable role models
However, experts consider other, inimitable factors to be more important: The country was more severely affected by the first wave. Many people in Spain still remember the vaccination campaign that was used to stop polio outbreaks there in 1984. Increased awareness of the dangers posed by the diseases through direct experience is therefore likely to be higher on average than in Germany. In addition, there is – also in other countries such as Portugal, which is also better vaccinated – more awareness of the economic consequences of the pandemic. One reason for this is that these countries are heavily dependent on tourism.
So Germany, says Katrin Schmelz, has no choice but to continue trying to get the needle to the arm with a wide variety of low-threshold offers and communication that does not want to be taken by surprise. And: One should emphasize the quite high rate – 77 percent double vaccinated adults – more. Because not only vaccination skepticism is contagious, “vaccination readiness is also.”