The unvaccinated define the limits of persuasion. Emmanuel Macron, the president of France, proposed a law requiring either proof of vaccination or a negative test result for many indoor activities. The mere prospect of a vaccine mandate set off mass protests. It also led to a surge in vaccinations.

There is nothing new about this. We do not solely rely on argumentation to persuade people to wear seatbelts. A majority of U.S. states do not leave it to individual debaters to hash out whether you can smoke in indoor workplaces.

Polio and measles were murderous, but their elimination required vaccine mandates, not just public education. When George Washington wanted to protect his soldiers from smallpox, he made vaccinations mandatory. It worked.

''No revolutionary regiments were incapacitated by by the disease during the the southern campaign, and the mandate arguably helped with the years long war,'' wrote Aaron Carroll.

TO REACH HERD IMMUNITY - THE U.S. AND the entire world - are going to need a very different approach.

I hate that I believe the sentence I'm about to write. It undermines much of what I spend my life trying to do. But there is nothing more overrated in politics - and perhaps in life - than the power of persuasion.

It is nearly impossible to convince people of what they don't want to believe. Decades of work in psychology attest to this truth, as does most everything in our politics and most of our everyday experience. Think of your own conversations with your family or your colleagues.

How often have you really persuaded someone to abandon a strongly held belief or preference? Persuasion is by no means impossible or unimportant, but on electric topics, it is a marginal phenomenon.

Which brings me to the difficult choice we face on coronavirus vaccinations.

The conventional wisdom is that there is some argument, yet unmade and perhaps undiscovered, that will change the minds of the roughly 30 percent of American adults who haven't gotten at least one dose. There probably isn't.

The unvaccinated often hold their views strongly, and many are making considered, cost-benefit calculations given how they weigh the risks of  the virus, and the information sources they trust to inform them of those risks. 

For all the exhortations to respect their concerns, there is a deep condescension in believing that we're smart enough to discover or invent some appeal they haven't yet heard.

If policymakers want to change their minds, they have to change their calculations by raising the costs of remaining unvaccinated, the benefits of getting vaccinated, or both. If they can't do that, or won't, the vaccination effort will most likely remain stuck - at least until a variant wreaks sufficient carnage to change the calculus.

You can see the weakness of persuasion in the eerie stability of vaccination preferences. The Kaiser Family Foundation has been surveying Americans about their vaccination intentions since December. At that time 15 percent said they would ''definitely'' refuse to get vaccinated, 9 percent said they would get a shot only ''if required,'' and 39 percent wanted to ''wait and see''.

Six months later, Kaiser asked the same question. By then, most of the wait-and-see crowd had seen enough to get vaccinated. The only-if-crew required shrank, but only by a bit : 6 percent of Americans  were still waiting on a mandate. But the definitely-notters had barely budged : They numbered 15 percent in December and 14 percent in June.

I don't want to overstate my case. There was movement between groups. Some people who said they would definitely refuse a vaccine in December had gotten one by June. About a quarter of those who intended to watch and wait decided firmly against getting vaccinated. But the surprise in Kaiser's data is the consistency of people's views.

In December, 73 percent of America's adults said they were eager to get vaccinated or were at least open to the possibility. Today, 69 percent of Americans over the age of 18 have gotten at least one shot. '' Most vaccine behaviours match what people planned to do six months ago,'' Kaiser concluded.

The Delta strain is fearsome enough, but if we keep permitting the virus to dance around the defenseless, we could soon have a strain that evades vaccines while retaining lethality, or that attacks children with more force.

Over and over again throughout the pandemic, the same pattern has played out : We haven't done enough to suppress the virus when we still could, so we have had to impose far more draconian laws lockdowns and grieve far more deaths, once we have lost control.

For this reason among many, I urge those who object to vaccination passports as an unprecedented stricture on liberty to widen their tragic imaginations.

The World Students Society thanks author Ezra Klein for his opinion.


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