PsychiatryTalk

How to Approach Fatal Denial In the Antivaxxers

Posted on May 15th, 2021 by Dr. Blumenfield

Michael Blumenfield, M.D.

(Dr. Blumenfield is the Sidney E. Frank Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at New York Medical College and currently in private practice in Los Angeles. He is the author of a new book “ShrinkTalk” scheduled to be released in June)

The pandemic has progressed to the point where we are trying to figure out why people are refusing or are reluctant to get vaccinated.

Months ago, we were struggling with the question as to why people were refusing to wear masks when it was clear that doing so could save thousands of lives. There were also thousands of people who would attend “super spreading events” where numerous people would become infected and many would die.  I conceptualized this behavior as people using the unconscious defense mechanism of “denial” and I suggested that we label it “Fatal Denial.” I also suggested a plan to run “focus groups” to determine to whom the non-maskers might identify with and then  to recruit them for a massive public affairs campaign on TV, Internet, billboards etc.  (see earlier blog). Many of my colleagues expressed strong agreement with this conceptualization and recommendation although despite my efforts to bring this suggestion to political and media people, there were very few media presentations utilizing these ideas.

Now we are in a situation where we have a safe effective vaccine which is saving hundreds of thousands of lives.  However, there are a significant number of people who refuse to get vaccinated or are “vaccine hesitant.” Because of this type of thinking, there is no doubt that many people will become infected and many will die. It also will become much more difficult to achieve “herd immunity.” We are seeing many experts appearing on TV urging people to get vaccinated and trying to explain the scientific validity of the vaccine. Hopefully, this will convince some of those who are hesitant or refusing to get vaccinated. However, I believe we need a stronger presentation to break through the “fatal denial” that is operating with these people.

I suggest that with every statistical presentation on the various media of the number of new cases and number of new deaths from Covid 19, it should also be stated and published what percentage of those fatalities were not vaccinated! In addition, there should be an effort on the part of the media to recruit people who were Anti Vaxxers and then survived a bout with this terrible disease to tell their story and how they regret their refusal to get the vaccine. Also, there should be a sensitive effort to bring to the attention of the public the first-hand story of family members who lost loved ones to the disease who had been against getting the vaccine.

I understand that I am suggesting that we approach people’s personal feeling about death and dying and also try to bring people’s personal pain and grief to public exposure albeit with their consent and agreement. I do this because I also understand that denial, and in this case “Fatal Denial” is a very powerful defense mechanism which has to be dismantled in order to save thousands of lives.

Please see a recent video clip which illustrates the above points:

https://abcnews.go.com/Health/texas-man-declined-covid-19-vaccine-speaks-undergoing/story?id=78321152

2 Responses to “How to Approach Fatal Denial In the Antivaxxers”

  1. Erika Fabian says:

    Good article!

  2. Seena Sharp says:

    Dr. Blumenfield has offered not one, but several suggestions for increasing the number of vaccinated people, understanding that some will refuse under any circumstances.

    I particularly support one metric that he suggested – and I have not heard – including the number or percentage of fatalities who were not vaccinated, since the vaccine became available.

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