Beyond nudging: negotiating our way to herd immunity
Can negotiation principles help us exit lockdowns for good?
We have a vaccine, more coming, and 200 others in trials. Care homes were at the frontline of the disease and now its cure. In a time of war analogies this could be the beginning of the end, or just the end of the beginning.
It all depends on the end. For Britain it’s reaching vaccine herd immunity. For the less privileged their likely Covid exit strategy is flu-similar. Vaccine the vulnerable, and let most others take their chances. Except Covid isn’t flu. The costs are far higher.
So vaccination uptake is all. We may need up to 90% of adults jabbed, according to Professor Anderson at Imperial (Lancet, November) depending on R-rates and vaccine efficacy. Even 70% looks challenging with some polls estimating current acceptance under 50%.
This isn’t a one-shot game. It’s two shots, at precise intervals, more than doubling failure rates. And not one-time, possibly annually, depending on mutations. To exit, and return to normal, we may need 70% rolling vaccinations: a vaccine-taking culture.
Not easy with the emergence of the ‘vaccine-hesitant’. Such as vulnerable over 60’s, and super-spreader young n’healthy. Both critical, and stubborn, groups. Try Covid fear on a vax-hesitant older person, or Long Covid fear on a vax-hesitant young n’healthy?
Harder crowd still are the ‘anti-vax’. Long-term opponents of vaccines such as the MMR cocktail. They call themselves ‘vaccine choice’, even if that choice is always no. All this and Gates and nano-particles conspiracies. Many are choosing Covid’s risk above any long-term vaccine one.
Doubts are understandable. Nine months when rotavirus took 26 years and still nothing for the common cold? 95% efficacy when its typically 50–60%? Approved so quickly that even Fauci disapproves? What’s this RNA, and are pharma really indemnified against litigation?
They’ve made vaccination non-mandatory. Governments can restrict all, and then ban the unvaccinated from bars and planes (or let Qantas etc do it). Beyond that compelling people won’t work, especially after lockdown compel-fatigue. We’re a democracy after all.
Maybe the hesitant just need a nudge? Nudge theory suggests people into making better life choices. We won’t mandate, just focus your attention. Put the fruit where you can see it. Western governments such as Britain default to nudge when forcing fails.
They’ll nudge in various ways. Demonstrate with smiling vaccinating 90-somethings. Use influencers — Attenborough and Farage jabbing together perhaps? Reassure it’s safe even for the immuno-deficient. Explain that speed was really a decade of preparation.
Educate that it was scientific brilliance meeting commitment and resources. Scientific peer reviews skipped, and over-lapping trials, cut no corners. Inspire that RNA just uses the protein’s blueprint to protect you, and can fight mutations with new vaccines in weeks.
Rally us with pleas to our better natures: it’s not about you, but everyone. Nudge, poke and push in various ways. Meanwhile remove and debunk the ‘firehose’ of social media disinformation which is influencing many hesitant.
Then there’s the Oxford-Astra Zenica vaccine. It’s built to sway hesitant. It didn’t come first, or second. It has an established platform and combines university with pharma. 70% efficacy gives high and ‘plausible’ protection. It’s not-for-profit, cheap and room temperature.
Chip away at hesitant then. Exclude. Educate. Explain. Reassure. Inspire. Use celebs. Use the vaccine story. Guilt. Rhetoric. Peer pressure, as others around you take it, then Oxford’s vaccine. Then rely on time, as 100,000's elderly take it weekly and survive.
Except the winter natural death rate for over 80’s is 10%. 1,000 dying a day. An upcoming field day for social media conspiracy theorists. It might damage you both short and long-term then? Two doses. Nudge, debunking misinformation and Oxford-Astra Zenica mightn’t be enough.
Can negotiation principles help? Well power is shared between citizen and state. They share an interest, life returning to normal and staying that way. Trust needs to be built. It’s an implicit negotiation.
Nudging closes down choices and conversations. Negotiation is essentially a series of conversations, possibly leading to agreement. The remaining hesitant, like floating voters, might most value choice. As their antidote to nervousness and mistrust.
The multiple vaccine types enable this choice. Or deal, or social contract. Choose 70%, or 90%, effectiveness. Choose your platform, trial-size, best results or least side-effects. Choose your university. Negotiate your own best course.
The act of offering alone empowers. For some that’s enough. For others it leads them to genuine research and selection. In critical negotiations it’s the power you create that counts. This can both create power and shape interests.
It might also move some anti-vax. They are unlikely to be a homogenous group of die-hard conspiracy theorists. For some it was opposition to imposition. Real vaccine choice replaces their story with agency.
Find those you can negotiate with. Turn them from dissenters into informed consumers. ‘Your nucleus and membrane protects your DNA’. If you’re not reassured, choose non-RNA Oxford or another. Turn anti-vax into believers.
It’s not what you say it’s what they hear. Like successful negotiation turnarounds it requires reset. This government understands the importance of transparency, debate and choice. Just that. Replace emotion, the online carrier of misinformation, with reason.
A ‘libertarian’ styled Conservative government can pitch this. Offer negotiation as partnership, not attrition. Build new, and tailored narratives, for each resistant group. Move sufficient ‘vaccine free-riders’, benefitting from others taking it, into takers themselves.
Negotiation’s sweet spot is exchanging your low value items in return for their high value ones. And vice versa. The Government offering choice for remaining hesitant is cheap compared with the cost: unnecessary lives lost, the grief, the economic and social impact of prolonged Covid.
Power doesn’t disappear, it moves. Democracy’s inability to compel naturally converts into the power of choice. Choice, if needed, is worth it to get to herd immunity quickly. It’s worth it to build a long-term vaccine-taking culture.
War often ends with negotiation. Let the government prepare to offer choice, if nudging isn’t enough. A negotiated settlement. Let the remaining hesitant, and anti-vax, choose their doses. We can then enjoy a third and beyond wave, not of fear, but of vaccination freeing us all.
Paul runs a strategic negotiation practice www.alexandassoc.com