Personal connection is key.

Government officials and business leaders are increasingly turning to mandates as tougher ways to push the COVID-19 vaccination rate higher.

But a new survey gauging the views of current and former vaccine hold-outs suggests a softer approach can also move the needle. It just matters who is the person who’s making the pitch for vaccination.

Friends, family and the personal doctors of vaccine skeptics have a lot of influence on the question of whether or not these doubters get the shots, according to a new survey from Deloitte, the consulting firm.

About six in ten people (59%) who are now vaccinated but former skeptics said they did it because of friends and family. The top motivator was their effort to protect their loved ones, they said.

The 3,000-person survey was conducted in mid- to late-August, when the delta variant had COVID-19 cases spiking. It incorporated more than 1,000 people who said they had not received the shot. This swath of survey participants included people who were hard no’s, people on the fence and people who would only get it if required.

As of Wednesday, approximately 19% of the adult population still has not received one dose of the vaccine, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Pfizer/BioNTech
PFE,
+3.64%

BNTX,
+3.99%

and Moderna
MRNA,
-3.33%

are the most widely available COVID-19 vaccines in the U.S. Both the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna shots use mRNA technology, require two doses, and had similar efficacy rates in last year’s clinical trials.

Children age 5 to 11 can now get Pfizer/BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine, while Moderna and Johnson & Johnson’s
JNJ,
+1.08%

vaccines are currently only available for adults. About 15 million people in the U.S. have received the J&J’s adenovirus-based COVID-19 vaccine.

Primary-care providers are seen as influential

Vaccine clinics, hospital and pharmacies are all places where people can get their shots. The offer of a COVID-19 vaccination during a routine doctor’s visit could also be a critical way to push the rate higher, the survey said — but that’s not happening often.

Among vaccinated survey respondents, 11% said their doctor or nurse offered the vaccine. Within the survey subset that’s not fully vaccinated, one-third said they’d likely agree to the shot if it was offered during a regular visit. In fact, among the staunchest skeptics refusing the shot, 17% said they would likely relent if their doctor offered the shot.

The CDC has pressed to get more vaccines directly to primary-care providers.

Access issues persist, especially for lower-income households, the survey said. One quarter of people making less than $25,000 a year who remain unvaccinated but want the shots cited transportation issues.

“We’re not at a ceiling,” said Dr. Asif Dhar, vice chair and U.S. life sciences and health-care industry leader for Deloitte. “People disproportionately value compassionate, authentic dialogue with the relationships they have, whether they are friends, family and, this is important, physicians.”

Among all survey participants, 70% said they placed “extreme trust” in their personal doctor, making physicians the most trusted figures on public-health matters.

Federal officials are among those least trusted

At the bottom of the list were appointed or elected federal officials. Less than a quarter (23%) said they had high levels of trust in these public figures and 27% said they placed that same level of trust in national and cable news.

Last week, the Biden administration unveiled specifics on vaccine mandate rules for the private sector. Businesses with at least 100 workers either have to have a fully vaccinated staff, or make unvaccinated staff undergo regular testing. The rules are scheduled to take effect Jan. 4, but the rule is caught up in litigation with parties including Republican-leaning states.

The survey comes at a time when misinformation abounds. Almost eight in ten adults is either uncertain or believes in a myth about the pandemic, vaccines and the government response, according to a poll from the Kaiser Family Foundation released Monday.

For Dhar, hearing people out in a genuine talk can make a difference.

Six weeks ago, he was on hold with a customer-service representative. In hold times for an hour long call, the two started with small talk. But then, the representative asked if Dhar was vaccinated, and what the experience was like.

“At the end of the call, she said ‘You know what, I’m going to go get vaccinated,” Dhar recalled. “It moved from chit chat to an honest dialogue,” he later added.

Thanksgiving is coming soon, gathering families for another potentially highly-charged meal after last year’s affair in the wake of the presidential election. But Dhar thinks for all the talk of polarization in the country, it’s still feasible for people to have sincere talks about vaccination.

“It is absolutely possible and it’s absolutely necessary,” he said.

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