What we’ve got here is failure to communicate. Some men you just can’t reach. So you get what we had here last week, which is the way he wants it. Well, he gets it.
If you don’t recognize those famous lines, they are from the movie, Cool Hand Luke. A young Paul Newman plays Luke, a prisoner on a chain gang. Luke is unable to submit to the authorities that now control his life, even if the inevitable, foreseeable outcome is his death.
The setting is simple enough: the Captain (the warden) warns Luke:
You gonna get used to wearing them chains after a while, Luke. Don’t you never stop listening to them clinking, ’cause they gonna remind you what I been saying for your own good.
Never one to pass up a chance to resist authority, Luke responds with,
I wish you’d stop being so good to me, Cap’n.
After a moment’s pause, this retort unleashes Captain’s fury – “Don’t you ever talk that way to me,” then lashing Luke with a baton, knocking him into a ditch. Captain then delivers the iconic lines: “What we’ve got here is failure to communicate. Some men you just can’t reach.”
That, it appears, is where this country is with the anti-vaxxer, anti-mask crowd. They have chosen – yes, chosen, because belief is a choice, not a biological imperative – chosen to believe false prophets whose statements are resulting in thousands more avoidable COVID deaths. Arguing with these people about the science, the data, the facts is just like trying to tell Cool Hand Luke that he needs to shape up and make his life easier on himself and those around him. Luke can’t hear it and neither can the anti-vaxxers.
It is, therefore, time to change tactics. Beating the anti-vaxxers, while tempting, is not an acceptable solution. But thus far, with one or two notable exceptions, the government’s health authorities have proceeded by burying everyone in obscure and largely irrelevant information. If you don’t believe me, look at the CDC’s COVID Data Tracker website: https://covid.cdc.gov/covid-data-tracker/#datatracker-home
This information is picked up by media and reported, more or less, in op-eds and other articles in the hope that the anti-vaxxers may read and be persuaded. There are other websites — CDC, New York Times and others – displaying vast quantities of COVID data, often in complex diagrams and charts that are difficult, if not impossible, for ordinary people to digest. The very complexity of the information makes many people leery of what the data says and, more importantly, often leads to inaccurate conclusions. Statistical skills in the general population are not a strong point.
The standard approach is not working, and it’s time for another approach. I recommend what I will call RealCOVID.
Here’s what I think should be done.
- COVID data should be reduced to its simplest essence, showing the most important information. At this time that is a comparison of deaths of vaccinated versus unvaccinated patients. Another useful analysis would be to add a simple presentation of the number of COVID infected survivors who continue to suffer adverse health effects and what the top ten or twelve such effects are. Keep it simple.
- The government should obtain, by whatever means necessary, prime-time space to display the latest death-data comparisons, as defined above, AND video from hospitals in which real doctors, real nurses, real EMTs briefly state what they have just experienced.
- Example: “I’m doctor LifeSaver and I work in the ICU. I just got off for the evening. I was attending to 12 COVID patients. Three, all unvaccinated, died during my shift. No vaccinated patients died. One of the other doctors and two nurses, all near physical and emotional collapse, had to leave the ICU early. That’s where we are.”
- The video should show, behind the doctor, a patient being intubated or perhaps even being prepped following death. In other words, show what is happening in the hospitals – give heft and bite to the statistics. Show the reality of COVID as it is happening. RealCOVID.
- The government, in cooperation with hospitals and clinics around the country, should have a daily COVID Report on prime-time cable and networks explaining what is happening and what is required to change the course of the pandemic.
I cite as an example the daily briefings that former Governor Cuomo conducted in New York during the peak of the pandemic in 2020. Those reports were seen all over the country. Whatever you may now think of Cuomo as a leader or whatever, the fact is that those briefings were authentic and, I believe, changed for the better the understanding and behavior of many, perhaps millions, of Americans. And they were a source of hope during the worst of the initial pandemic in New York, the then-epicenter.
These reports should not be presented by politicians nor by Dr. Fauci, but by in-the-trenches medical personnel who are qualified to speak in plain terms about the data and the proper defensive tools. We are blessed with many experts in epidemiology and other relevant fields of expertise regarding pandemics. Let’s use them.
No doubt many anti-vaxxers will remain unpersuaded. They have, for whatever reasons, become convinced beyond all reason that vaccines are evil and/or that government attempts to regulate behavior are an assault on freedom. We’re not likely to change their minds but instead of debating them, let’s just show them – every day, in every way. Maybe, just maybe, seeing the devastation will have an effect that complicated multi-page data/charts/diagrams will not.
What do we have to lose?