The Feeling

Facts and Feelings: COVID, Vaccines, and Vitamins

Bias comes in many forms. People express bias when they hold to a partial perspective about a person, group, thing, or idea. With bias comes the refusal to consider different points of view. Feelings, not facts, drive our biases and we all have them. On the subject of  COVID-19, vaccines, and vitamins, this is especially true.

Bias pops up repeatedly in facts and feelings about COVID-19 vaccines, vaccine hesitancy, and the value of vitamins for preventing COVID.

A Prevailing Bias About Vaccine Hesitancy Proves Wrong

When COVID-19 vaccines became a reality, the prevailing bias became a presumption that vaccine hesitancy would be a big problem for Black and ethnic minority communities. It was a compelling narrative. Years of mistreatment and mistrust would lead those people who needed the vaccine most to hang back from getting it.

However, that has not turned out to be the case. In fact, Black and Latinx communities are embracing vaccination to an extent that surprises the soothsayers who predicted a big problem. The only problem for those communities is systemic. Vaccination is indeed going slower in Black and Latinx communities. But hesitancy is not the problem. The real problem lies with systems to deliver vaccines. Healthcare access in those communities is poor and so is the access to vaccination sites.

It is a manifestation of systemic racism. The prevailing bias is to blame the people, when the real problem is that healthcare systems are putting the vaccine out of reach for many in these communities. Chicago and Philadelphia have demonstrated that when communities pay attention to equitable access, vaccination rates go up in Black and Latinx communities.

The Real Hesitancy: White, Male, and Political

It turns out that the real vaccine hesitancy is greatest with white men who identify as Republicans. Half of them say they don’t want the vaccine. James Ainsworth of Raleigh, MS, puts it this way:

“I just ain’t never got no flu shot. So I ain’t planning on getting no COVID-19 shot. I wouldn’t be wearing this here [a mask], but you got to. It mainly affected people that’s got low immune systems. So I just say take some vitamins.”

This sort of hesitancy is not inevitable, though. Just look at the high vaccination rates in southwest Virginia.

The Fiction of Vitamins to Boost Immunity

Misinformation clearly doesn’t help with this situation. A prime example would be reporting on a new study in JAMA Network Open that found a correlation between vitamin D levels and COVID-19 risk. It is the umpteenth such study. But vitamin D levels correlate with many things (like sunlight exposure and nutrition quality) that make conclusions about cause and effect impossible. In fact, RCTs so far have failed to find an effect for vitamin D to reduce COVID risk. Retractions seem to have no effect on the cult of vitamin D.

Hungry for clicks, news outlets will report on that correlation study as evidence that “Vitamin D supplements may reduce the risk of getting COVID-19.” No matter that the research did not even examine the use of supplements – let alone test it.

Facts Versus Feelings

Eric Barker offers a guide to helping people change their minds on difficult subjects. He puts it bluntly. In this situation, facts are the enemy. Pummeling a person with facts when they have strong feelings about a subject will not win them over. A lecture almost never works. When people change their minds, it is because they come up with new reasoning themselves and change the way they feel about the subject.

Bias is powerful and all of us harbor it. Feelings, not facts, are usually the stumbling blocks to overcoming it.

Click here for further perspective on helping people change their minds. For more on feelings, attitudes, and progress on COVID-19 vaccinations, click here, here, and here.

The Feeling, painting by Adriaen Brouwer / WikiArt

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March 23, 2021