People who aren't vaccinated - what should they be called?

The other viewpoint is what? “I don’t care what happens to you, because my risk is low”? “I like incubating virus variants and I hope to make the existing vaccines useless”? “Mask wearing is great and I’m hoping to keep everyone wearing masks indefinitely!”?

There are two conversations here.

What do we call people with no access to the vaccine? Not “hesitant,” because that doesn’t even come close to describing their situation.

My beef was with “hesistant” to describe people, i.e. adult Americans, who have access to the vaccine, but have chosen not to get it.

Not getting it for legitimate medical reasons, e.g. life-threatening allergy? You’re not hesitant, you’re a sensible person following medical advice.
Not getting it for logistical reasons, e.g. transportation? You’re not hesitant, you’re being badly served by your government.
Not getting it for age reasons, e.g. childhood? You’re not hesitant, you’re just waiting for the clinical trials to finish.

That leaves only a few groups:

  • the anti-vaxxers, who aren’t hesitant. I don’t think gentle persuasion by soft mislabelling with effect a change on their behavior.
  • the “I just don’t want to” / “I don’t see any real benefit” crowd. This would describe me for the annual flu shot—I never even consider it, counting on reasonable overall health to see me through it, despite awareness of the 1918 flu. I’m not “hesitant” about the flu shot, I’ve just made an entirely self-centered decision about it. “Reluctant” would be a more accurate label, and I don’t think it’s so insulting or judgemental that it would put people off.

As with anything, it’s the second group you want to move into the “willing” group. But how? Shaming people isn’t going to work; nor will appealing to their better natures to make this small sacrifice for the greater good, at least if mask-wearing is any indication.

The whole point of complaining about “vaccine hesitant” is that I really don’t think euphemisms are going to do it, either, but I do think that euphemisms are harmful: we have a group of people who are reluctant or unwilling to engage with reality. How is indulging them in any way going to help?

You left out the group of people that aren’t sure whether the vaccine is safe or appropriate for them. You left out those who would answer this question,

When an FDA approved vaccine for COVID-19 is available to you for free, do you think you will…?

with this answer:

Wait until it has been available for a while to see how it is working for other people


It HAS been available for a while (widely for six months; hundreds of millions of people have received it) and we KNOW how it is working for other people.

In November, that was a somewhat reasonable position. I say “somewhat” because everything had already gone through fairly large clinical trials before being approved for emergency use. But anyone who is still dithering about the “safe or appropriate” issue is dithering for reasons that have nothing to do with reasonable caution.

I disagree with their analysis, but that doesn’t mean they’re being dishonest about it. I have an aunt who is generally suspicious of mainstream medicine, but she’s not crazy, and sometimes she’s right. She tried to talk me out of participating in the trial because she was concerned about the unknown factors. But she’s taking COVID seriously, and her kids are vaccinated for the usual stuff. I remain hopeful that, as she sees more and more people get this vaccine and suffer no adverse medical events over time, she will decide to get it herself.

Just because you think vaccine hesitation is unreasonable, does not mean it doesn’t exist.


Shaming definitely won’t do it. Appealing to their better nature might. That was the experience of the Atlantic article author that Ulfreida mentioned upthread, although I don’t fully agree with their summary of the article. The article is much more nuanced than the summary was.

See, this is what I object to. I agree with the content of your statement: vaccine hesitation exists, even though I think it’s a tiny minority of the people being covered by that label in mass media discourse. But the way you have framed it is to suggest that my position (by May of 2021, such hesistation is unreasonable) is equivalent to their position (continued hesitation). The two positions are not equivalent. If Esprise_Me’s aunt is still hesitant (and I never said or thought that such a position was dishonest or disingenuous), it’s no longer a matter of waiting to see how it goes,

She has already seen 800 million people in that circumstance, or could if she opened her eyes. I don’t know the woman, so I can’t know her reasoning or form a valid opinion of her based on this one fact. But if she is still hesitant at this point, the hesitancy has moved beyond simple caution, prudence, or hesitancy, and should be categorized in a different way, if for no other reason than such a position is a danger to public health.

No, she has not seen 800 million people not suffer adverse medical events over time, which is what I said. I can’t believe you’re putting me in the position of defending these folks, but your assertion that they have all the evidence they need and therefore aren’t merely hesitating, but will never do it, is unsupported.

Well, I’m really not trying to pick a fight. We’re disagreeing about “over time.” How much time does she need? Six months is not enough, clearly. But you’re saying that there is some time frame more than that but less than eternity, which may well be the case. What would be reasonable? I’m not asking you to pick a number out of thin air or anything; I’m just curious how long we should give people in this category.

I have my own biases (obviously) in that I, personally, felt that the clinical trials were sufficient, given the urgent situation. It may be that we haven’t yet hit the point of diminishing returns for people like your aunt.

We’re not even disagreeing about what’s reasonable. I agree that reasonable people who have not been specifically advised against it by their doctor should be getting it now if they haven’t already. We’re arguing about whether their current resistance is a temporary state. I say, for at least some of them, it is. And it’s too soon to say who among those calling themselves merely hesitant is lying. When we see the number of new vaccines being given daily slow to a trickle, when it’s widely known that doses are being thrown away en masse because people aren’t showing up to get them, then we might be able to conclude that everyone who is likely to ever get one has already done so. Again, I’m gonna give it a few more months.

I lifted that initialism from one of my WeChat groups. It means “I may be mistaken though”. But I thoroughly enjoyed reading the alternatives you all proposed, especially Lobohan’s.

No. “Anti-vax” is the accurate description for this stance on the flu vaccine.

I already cited the Kaiser Foundation’s polling. A poll from 3/21 showed 25% of 1,103 people wanted to “wait until it has been available for a while to see how it is working for other people”. That makes for 17% of the population - in March.

Monmouth did their own polling, and as of April 12 estimate 12% of Americans (800 polled) belong to the ‘wait-and-see’ group.

Some unfavorable news broke in mid-late April about blood clots. Even though this was only a rare problem for some vaccines, it may contribute to some people’s continued hesitancy after these polls.

I’m not sure what you consider to be ‘a tiny minority of people’, but I think it’s reasonable to assume the percentage of American adults that are still vaccine hesitant is near or within the single digits - under twenty-five million individuals, I think.


Yes it was some fun silliness. But, in all seriousness, as I posted upthread:

As you must know, the point isn’t what your initialism stands for, it’s about not including letters/words that few, if any, people know.

It’s the same thing as not using foreign language on the SDMB. And let’s face it, an initialism that only your WeChat group knows is about the most foreign “language” of all!

For me, that stance was just “lazy” or “apathetic.” I didn’t get the flu shot regularly until my kids were born. I never had anything against it; I never doubted the science behind it; I just didn’t give a shit, for lack of better terms. My brother still doesn’t bother, but he lined up for the COVID vax as soon as it was available to his group. I mean, call it “anti-vax” if you want, but I don’t think it’s correct semantically. “a-vax” would be more accurate.

Personally, it irritates me that people don’t get vaccinated, and it irritates me to read comments on Facebook along the lines of “we let God take care of it” or “we never wore masks in the first place,” but I personally do not find anti-vaxxers or vaccine-hesitant people’s concerns not understandable. It completely makes sense to me. I don’t think it’s completely rational, and I find it self-centered, but it’s an understandable viewpoint to me. I don’t like anti-vaxxers, but name calling and ostracizing I feel, in this case, will simply cause them to dig in their heels more. If it makes you feel good to call them idiots and wish death upon them, well, knock yourself out. It’s not a rational path forward.

I thought that “anti-vax” was reserved for people who were against vaccination on principle, but if the shoe fits, I’ll wear it. Rather uncomfortably, though: I always thought the flu vaccines were only advised for people over 50, which I am not.

In any case, quite a few here seem to think that hesitancy is still a reasonable position. That surprises me, but largely because I don’t understand what further information people could be waiting for.

I think we should call them draggers, because they are bound and determined to drag the pandemic out.

There really isn’t much more information. It’s not a question of information. It’s combatting the gut feeling of “well, this is all brand new stuff–I don’t want to be an experiment. Sure, everybody seems fine that’s been vaccinated, but how will they be in one year? Five years? Ten years? I’d rather not take that chance and be a guinea pig” I mean, I don’t agree with it, but can’t you see that being an understandable, if not completely rational, position? I have a Black acquaintance who absolutely will not take the vaccine because he doesn’t trust the government. He’s a highly intelligent and artistic person, but he vociferously states he will not take it. Am I supposed to call him an idiot and ostracize him? After Tuskegee and a lot more, is it not understandable to be skeptical? Who the fuck am I to tell him he’s a moron or a “dragger” or whatever pejorative you want to put here?

You and a couple of other people seem to think I want to call people names. I don’t know why you think that. Did I say that somewhere? So just to be crystal clear:

  • I vehemently disagree with the reluctance to get the coronavirus vaccine.
  • I am not inclined to sympathize with people making important decisions based on feelings and impressions.
  • I disagree with euphemisms like “hesitant” when the issue is reluctance.
  • Even so, I don’t feel particularly compelled to mock, insult, or make fun of these people. Have I done that somewhere without being aware of it?

Regarding the issue for the Black community, Black people have a lot of excellent and well-founded reasons for their suspicions, including disproportionate suffering from the current pandemic due to longer-term racism in the system. For them, I suppose, the only counterarguments are that this is everyone, affecting everyone, and the vaccines are internationally developed and deployed. But I can see that if that message were delivered by bland white faces through the usual channels, that argument might not be too convincing.