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Forceful vaccine messages backfire with holdouts – how can it be done better?

Subtly shifting the crafting and delivery of public health messaging on COVID-19 vaccines could go a long way toward persuading many of the unvaccinated to get the shot.

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Protesters gather at Indiana University in June 2021 to demonstrate against mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations for students, staff and faculty. SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

With the FDA approval of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine and the continued surge of the delta variant, governments across the world have renewed their push to increase the number of vaccinated individuals by persuading the holdouts. On Sept. 9, 2021, President Joe Biden announced sweeping vaccine mandates, expressing frustration at the vaccine holdouts: “We’ve been patient, but our patience is wearing thin. And your refusal has cost all of us.”

As a communication scientist who has studied the effects of media and health campaigns for the past 30 years, I worry that a fevered pitch in vaccine messaging may make the holdouts even more resistant. The direct, blunt messages to go get vaccinated that worked on three-quarters of Americans may not work for the remaining one-quarter. If anything, they might backfire.

Research has shown that some health communication techniques work more effectively than others depending on the audience. It’s a lesson that not only policymakers can apply but also members of the media, industry and even parents and relatives.

When it comes to embracing new ideas and practices, research has identified five categories of people: innovators, early adopters, early majority, late majority and laggards. With COVID-19 vaccination, it’s come down to the last two, and they are the most resistant to change.

This group of unvaccinated people is substantial in number – there are nearly 80 million people in the U.S. who are vaccine eligible yet remain unvaccinated – and they are the ones who could help the U.S. achieve herd immunity. But, research suggests that they are also the ones who will take offense at forceful exhortations to go get vaccinated.

Strong messaging can backfire

Public health messaging can and does often influence people – but not always in the intended direction. Back in 1999, I testified in the U.S. Congress about how powerful anti-drug messages may be turning adolescents on to drugs rather than off of them. Likewise, the strong language of current vaccine messaging may be evoking resistance rather than compliance.

Consider this headline from a recent New York Times editorial: “Get Masked. Get Vaccinated. It’s the Only Way Out of This.” This follows 18 months of public-health messaging urging people to stay home, wash hands and maintain social distancing.

They may be well intentioned, but research in health communication shows that such directive messages can be perceived as “high threat,” meaning they threaten the free will of the message receiver by dictating what they should do. They are likely to trigger what psychologists call “reactance”. In other words, when individuals sense a threat to their freedom of action, they become motivated to restore that freedom, often by attempting to do the very thing that is prohibited or by refusing to adhere to the recommended behavior.

Recent research by my communications colleagues at Penn State shows that even advertisements that include directive slogans such as “No Mask, No Ride” – from Uber – and “Socialize Responsibly to Keep Bars Open” – a Heineken message – can irritate consumers and make them less likely to engage in responsible behaviors.

Reactance to COVID-19 messaging is evident in the form of widespread protests around the world. Many have gone to the streets and social media, with slogans such as “my body, my choice,” “let me call my own shots” and “coercion is not consent.”

These responses demonstrate not simply hesitation to get vaccinated, but rather active resistance to vaccine messaging, reflecting an effort to protect personal agency by asserting one’s freedom of action.

Flipping the script

Freedom is a critical concept in the anti-vaccination rhetoric. “Freedom, not force” is the battle cry of the protesters. “If we lose medical freedom, we lose all freedom,” reads a poster. “Choose freedom,” urged Sen. Rand Paul in a recent op-ed expressing his resistance to mask mandates and lockdowns. “We will make our own health choices. We will not show you a passport, we will not wear a mask, we will not be forced into random screening and testing.”

Anti-vaccination protester holds a sign and a flag during a rally against COVID-19 vaccines
Freedom of choice has been a constant theme throughout the pandemic, whether it be about masking, school and business closures or vaccination. Ringo Chiu/AFP via Getty Images

One way to counter such reactance is by changing the communication strategy. Health communication researchers have found that simple changes to message wording can make a big difference. In one study by my Penn State colleagues who study health persuasion, the researchers tested participants’ responses to sensible health behaviors such as flossing: “If you floss already, don’t stop even for a day. And, if you haven’t been flossing, right now is the time to start. … Flossing: It’s easy. Do it because you have to!” Study participants reacted to such messages by expressing their disagreement through anger and by defying the advocated behavior.

But then the researchers reworded the same advocacy to be less threatening, such as: “If you floss already, keep up the good work. And if you haven’t been flossing, now might be a good time to start.” And “Flossing: It’s easy. Why not give it a try?” They found that the participants’ reactance was significantly lower and their message acceptance higher.

In the same way, softening the message and using less dogmatic language could be the key to persuading some of the unvaccinated. This is because suggestive, rather than directive, messages allow room for people to exercise their own free will. Studies in health communication also suggest several other strategies for reducing reactance, ranging from providing choices to evoking empathy.

Bandwagon effects

Perhaps more important – given people’s reliance on smartphones and social networking – is to make better use of the technological features of interactive media, which includes websites, social media, mobile apps and games. Clever use of digital media can help convey strong health messages without triggering reactance.

Research in our lab shows that people’s responses to media messages can be influenced by the approval of anonymous others on the internet, in the same way that consumers rely on other people’s opinions and star ratings for making purchasing decisions online. In a recent study, we discovered that freedom-threatening health messages can be made more palatable if they are accompanied by a large number of likes on social media from other people. When a lot of others were seen as supporting the advocacy message, the forceful language did not seem any more threatening to their freedom than the gentler version.

In other words, we found that the number of likes has a strong “bandwagon effect” in reducing reactance. We also discovered that providing an option to comment on the health message imbues a higher sense of personal agency and greater acceptance of the message.

In another recent experiment, we found that customization, or the ability to tailor one’s phone or online site to one’s liking, can also aid health communication. Whether it is a phone app, dating site or social media feed, customizing a digital space allows people to reflect their personality. Seeing a health advocacy message in such a personalized space does not pose as much of a threat in such venues because people feel secure in their identity. We found that customization helps reduce negative reactions to health messages by increasing one’s sense of identity.

A communication strategy that is sensitive to psychological reactance could empower the holdouts to willingly get vaccinated instead of grudgingly comply with a mandate.

[Understand new developments in science, health and technology, each week. Subscribe to The Conversation’s science newsletter.]

S. Shyam Sundar receives funding from U. S. National Science Foundation.

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Spread & Containment

Potential COVID-19 Treatment Found in Llama Antibodies

The need to uncover effective COVID-19 treatments remains imperative, as case counts remain steady eighteen months into the pandemic. Recent findings point to unique antibodies produced by llamas—nanobodies—as a promising treatment. The small, stable,…

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A significant milestone in the COVID-19 pandemic was crossed this week. The number of deaths in the United States due to COVID-19—more than 675,000—has surpassed the number of deaths that occurred during the 1918 flu pandemic. In addition, there are still roughly 150,000 new cases every day. Eighteen months into the pandemic, the need for effective treatments against COVID-19 remains as great as ever.

One possible treatment, neutralizing single domain antibodies (nanobodies), has significant potential. The unique antibody produced by llamas is small, stable, and could possibly be administered as a nasal spray—an important characteristic as the antibody treatments currently in use require administration by infusion in the hospital. Now, new research shows that nanobodies can effectively target the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

The team from the Rosalind Franklin Institute found that short chains of the molecules, which can be produced in large quantities, showed “potent therapeutic efficacy in the Syrian hamster model of COVID-19 and separately, effective prophylaxis.”

This work is published in Nature Communications in the paper, “A potent SARS-CoV-2 neutralizing nanobody shows therapeutic efficacy in the Syrian golden hamster model of COVID-19.

The nanobodies, which bind tightly to the SARS-CoV-2 virus, neutralizing it in cell culture, could provide a cheaper and easier to use alternative to human antibodies taken from patients who have recovered from COVID-19.

“Nanobodies have a number of advantages over human antibodies,” said Ray Owens, PhD, head of protein production at the Rosalind Franklin Institute. “They are cheaper to produce and can be delivered directly to the airways through a nebulizer or nasal spray, so can be self-administered at home rather than needing an injection. This could have benefits in terms of ease of use by patients but it also gets the treatment directly to the site of infection in the respiratory tract.”

Credit: Rosalind Franklin Institute

The research team was able to generate the nanobodies by injecting a portion of the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein into a llama called Fifi, who is part of the antibody production facility at the University of Reading. They were able to purify four nanobodies capable of binding to SARS-CoV-2. Four nanobodies (C5, H3, C1, F2) engineered as homotrimers had pmolar affinity for the receptor-binding domain (RBD) of the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein. Crystal structures showed that C5 and H3 overlap the ACE2 epitope, while C1 and F2 bind to a different epitope.

Regarding their effectiveness against variants, the C1, H3, and C5 nanobodies all neutralized the Victoria strain, and the highly transmissible Alpha (B.1.1.7 first identified in Kent, U.K.) strain. In addition, C1 neutralizes the Beta (B.1.35, first identified in South Africa).

When one of the nanobody chains was administered to hamsters infected with SARS-CoV-2, the animals showed a marked reduction in disease, losing far less weight after seven days than those who remained untreated. Hamsters that received the nanobody treatment also had a lower viral load in their lungs and airways after seven days than untreated animals.

“Because we can see every atom of the nanobody bound to the spike, we understand what makes these agents so special,” said James Naismith, PhD, director of the Rosalind Franklin Institute. If successful and approved, nanobodies could provide an important treatment around the world as they are easier to produce than human antibodies and don’t need to be stored in cold storage facilities, added Naismith.

“Having medications that can treat the virus,” noted Naismith, “is still going to be very important, particularly as not all of the world is being vaccinated at the same speed and there remains a risk of new variants capable of bypassing vaccine immunity emerging.”

The researchers also hope the nanobody technology they have developed could form a so-called “platform technology” that can be rapidly adapted to fight other diseases.

The post Potential COVID-19 Treatment Found in Llama Antibodies appeared first on GEN - Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology News.

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China Syndrome? Is Evergrande A Symptom Of Deeper Malaise

China Syndrome? Is Evergrande A Symptom Of Deeper Malaise

Authored by Bill Blain via MorningPorridge.com,

“If that’s true, we are very close to the China Syndrome ”

Evergrande’s imminent default is rocking markets – but few believe…

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China Syndrome? Is Evergrande A Symptom Of Deeper Malaise

Authored by Bill Blain via MorningPorridge.com,

“If that’s true, we are very close to the China Syndrome ”

Evergrande’s imminent default is rocking markets – but few believe the collapse of a Chinese property developer could trigger a global financial crisis. What if Evergrande is just a symptom of a deeper malaise within the Chinese economy and its political/business structures? Maybe there is more at stake than we realise? What if Emperor Xi decides he needs a distraction?

Amid this week's market turbulence, and the overnight headlines, Evergrande dominates thinking this morning. The early headlines say the risk is “easing”. Don’t be fooled. S&P are on the wires saying it’s on the brink of default and is unlikely to get govt support. It’s Asia’s largest junk-bond issuer. Anyone for the last few choc-ices then?

The market view on the coming Evergrande “event” is mixed. Some analysts are dismissing it as an internal “China event”, others reckon there may be some systemic risk but one Government can easily address. There is some speculation about “lessons” to be learnt… There are even China supporters who reckon its proof of robust China capitalism – the right to fail is a positive!

I’ve got a darker perspective.

The massive shifts we’ve seen in China’s political/business public persona over the past few years have been variously ascribed: a reaction to Trump’s protectionism, China taking its place as a leading nation, Xi flexing his military muscle, and now a clampdown on divisive wealthy businesses to promote common prosperity.

What if Evergrande is just a symptom of something much deeper?

That that last 30-years of runaway Chinese growth has resulted in a deepening internal crisis, one that we barely perceive in the west? What if the excesses that have spawned Evergrande and the illusion every Chinese can afford luxury flats and a western standard of living is about to implode? Crashing oriental minor chords!

The looming Chinese property debacle will be fascinating, but it many respects will be similar and yet very different to the multiple market unwinds we’ve seen in the west. How it plays out will have all kinds of implications for growth, speculation and how global investors perceive China in the future. Folk are variously describing it as China’s Lehman Brothers, or the next “Minsky Moment” when speculation ends with a sharp jab of reality to the kidneys.

I’m thinking back to a story I read a few years ago about the Shanghai Auto-fair pre-pandemic. Evergrande New Electric Vehicles had the largest stand and was showing off 11 different EVs. Not one of these were actually available to buy – they were all models of as-yet unproduced cars. The company was valued at billions and yet never sold a single vehicle. This morning, it’s just another worthless business Evergrande is trying to flog. (See this story on Bloomberg TV: China’s Zombie EV Makers.)

The market is asking itself a host of questions about Evergrande’s collapse: How bad will its tsunami of Chinese contagion deluge global markets? When it’s going to happen? What knock-on effects will cascade through markets?

Perhaps the most important question is: Who will be exposed “swimming naked” when the Evergrande tide goes out? Who will be left with the biggest losses? As the company is definitely bust, these losses rather depend on just how China’s authorities respond.

Step back and think about it a moment – try putting these in context:

  • Fundamentally all business is about identifying a consumer need and filling it.

  • Fundamentally, greedy businessmen tend to get carried away because the political-financial system enables them.

  • Fundamentally, it’s just another burst bubble and who cleans up the mess.

  • In Evergrande’s case a thousand flowers of capitalism with Chinese characteristics grew into an unsustainable business – fundamentally no different from debt-fuelled sub-prime mortgages, or CDOs cubed, in the West.

The big difference this time is its China! China has done things… differently. The path China pursued in its recovery and growth since 1980 has not been without… consequences.

Thus far we’ve praised China for its spectacular growth and the creation of valuable companies under the red banner of Chinese capitalism. It is going to be “interesting” to see how the subsequent mess is cleared out. Questions about Moral Hazard are going to be shockingly simple – Government has made it abundantly clear that any wrongdoing by company executives will be punished in the harshest possible way.

More importantly, Chinese politics and business works on a very different playing field to the west. Forget the rule of law or the T&C’s of Evergrande bonds. It easy to dismiss and characterise the way Chinese business works as institutionalised systemic corruption – but it’s a system Ancient Roman Emperors would recognise as a patron/client relationship. Emperor Xi’s clients and his princelings will continue to benefit from his patronage in return for their support at his court, and will be protected in a meltdown. The system Xi presides over will have little motivation to intervene to protect western investors who find themselves caught in the Evergrande fiasco.

Where Xi will have to take notice is outside the rich, wealthy princeling cadre which increasingly owns and runs China. There will be massive implications for wealth/inequality among the Chinese people from a property collapse. With a third of Chinese GDP dependent on the property sector, (and about 4 million jobs at Evergrande), the collapse of one of the biggest players, and the likelihood others will follow is much more than just a systemic risk.

Property is a key metric in the aspirations to wealth of the rising Chinese middle classes. The same smaller Chinese investors and savers will likely prove the largest losers from the property investment schemes they were sucked into. These real losses will rise if hidden bank exposures trigger a domestic banking crisis – which apparently isn’t likely (meaning it is..). There are reports of investor protests in key China cities – putting pressure on the govt to act to mitigate personal losses.

Xi’s clampdown on big tech is painted as the Party’s programme to engineer a more socially-equal economy. He has pinned the blame for rising inequality on “corrupt” business practices and has his cadre’s waving books on Xi thought, mouthing slogans about “common prosperity” and “frugality”. These are going to look increasingly hollow if the middle classes bear the coming Evergrande pain, and the Party Princelings continue to prosper.

The really big risk in China is not that Evergrande is going to default – it’s much bigger. If the Party is seen to fail in its promise to deliver wealth, jobs and prosperity for the masses – then that is very serious. China’s host of failed EV companies, an economy still reliant on exporting other nations tech, and a massively overvalued property sector (that the masses still equate with prosperity) all suggest a much less solid economy than the Party promotes.

If the illusion of a strong economy is unravelling – who knows what happens next, but in Ancient Rome the answer would be simple… Blame someone else, and invade..

This could get very “interesting…” and not in a good way.

Tyler Durden Wed, 09/22/2021 - 08:45

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White House Reporters Have Launched ‘Formal Objection’ About Biden Refusing To Answer Questions

White House Reporters Have Launched ‘Formal Objection’ About Biden Refusing To Answer Questions

Authored by Steve Watson via Summit News,

CBS News reported Tuesday that the press pool of White House reporters have launched a formal objection

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White House Reporters Have Launched 'Formal Objection' About Biden Refusing To Answer Questions

Authored by Steve Watson via Summit News,

CBS News reported Tuesday that the press pool of White House reporters have launched a formal objection over the fact that Joe Biden refuses to answer any questions, with reporters routinely being yelled down and physically pushed away by Biden’s handlers.

The revelation came after an embarrassing scene in the Oval Office with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson answering questions, but Biden not being allowed to by aides.

Watch:

Johnson took the three questions from British reporters

CBS reporter Ed O’Keefe said that “Johnson took 3 questions. White House aides shouted down U.S. attempts to ask questions. I asked Biden about southern border and we couldn’t decipher what he said.”

CBS radio correspondent Steve Portnoy later reported that “The entire editorial component of the US pool went immediately into Jen Psaki’s office to register a formal complaint that no American reporters were recognized for questions in the president’s Oval Office.”

Portnoy, also president of the White House Correspondents Association, added that the complaint also extended to the fact “that wranglers loudly shouted over the president as he seemed to give an answer to Ed O’Keefe’s question about the situation at the Southern Border. Biden’s answer could not be heard over the shouting.”

“Psaki was unaware that the incident has occurred and suggested that she was not  in a position to offer an immediate solution,” Portnoy continued, adding “Your pooler requested a press conference. Psaki suggested the president takes questions several times a week.”

In addition, National Review notes that after Biden’s UN speech yesterday, French reporter Kethevane Gorjestani “was asked by a very startled Australian reporter whether WH wranglers were always so strict about ushering the pool out without questions.”

The pathetic display is a continuation of the way Biden’s handlers have been acting since even before he took office, shooing away reporters, giving Biden strict instructions on who he can take questions from, and even muting his mic when he goes off script.

A week ago, Republican Senator James Risch demanded to know who is in charge of controlling when the President is allowed to be heard, noting during a Senate hearing that “This is a puppeteer act, if you would, and we need to know who’s in charge and who is making the decisions.”

“Somebody in the White House has authority to press the button and stop the president, cut off the president’s speaking ability and sound. Who is that person?” Risch asked.

Tweeting out the video, leftists insisted the claims were ‘bizarre,’ ‘ridiculous’ and ‘absurd’:

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Tyler Durden Wed, 09/22/2021 - 10:15

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