Dr. Kevin Maas, M.D., President of JONGCD&V Belgium
Dr. Thomas Belligh, PhD, International Secretary of JONGCD&V Belgium

Several vaccines for COVID-19 are finally rolling out. This is the moment we have all been waiting for the past year! However, there are still some major hurdles to overcome. While the majority of the population is overjoyed, anti-vaccine movements are sadly also gaining momentum. Even though EU governments have already provided extensive information about the safety and efficacy of the vaccine, it seems that a substantial part of the population is not entirely convinced. This appears to be a problem in all EU member states. How should we deal with this challenge, as sensible young politicians of the centre-right family?

As Christian-Democrats and (Liberal) Conservatives we should always stand by the basic principles of freedom and human dignity. Therefore, we cannot force our citizens to be vaccinated against their will, as this would be a violation of their physical integrity. Rather, we need to persuade them to choose to receive the vaccine themselves. However, we know that some people are not easily convinced by merely providing rational arguments. The experience in decision-making of the last 40 years has shown that there are more preferable alternatives. The central insight of behavioural economics can be summarized in the statement that people are rational, but that rationality is always bounded, rather than absolute. This insight is not only strikingly similar to the view of man endorsed by Christian Democracy and Conservatism, but it can also help us deal with this particular problem. Returning to decision-making techniques, one alternative is to leave the freedom of choice intact, whilst also providing a subtle push in the right direction. Based on this, we suggest four strategies which could help convince people that are currently influenced by the anti-vaccine movement.

The first is to acknowledge resistance. By providing honest and transparent information about the vaccine, including its possible disadvantages and downsides, it becomes easier to gain people’s trust. By including the possible downsides in the message, it will increase the credibility of the core message. Straightforward communication can be challenging, particularly on a subject as complex as this one, but it is worth the effort. The European institutions responsible can contribute to the provision of clear and comprehensive information, which would also recognize possible downsides.

The second is to use social pressure. The European governments can contribute to the creation of a healthy level of peer pressure and use this for the greater good. For example, the creation of national profile picture frames on social media, as anyone who has been vaccinated could use it to show they got vaccinated. Peer pressure is generally regarded as negative, but in cases such as this, it can be used for the greater good.

The third is to let people take small steps. In the following weeks and months member states will have to set up extensive campaigns to encourage people to get vaccinated. The European Commission can seize the opportunity and help by creating an online form which people can sign if they want to receive the vaccine. By signing this non-binding document, people can show others that they support the government’s call for vaccination, while influencing their personal network.

The fourth is to implement easy and straightforward procedures for vaccination. Good examples are vaccination centres where online appointments can easily be scheduled. After registering online, people should automatically receive all practical information on how the vaccine will be administered. Given that it will not be easy to persuade everyone to get vaccinated, we cannot risk discouraging enthusiastic people due to technical, administrative, or practical issues.