5 reasons people don’t evacuate during hurricanes may explain reluctance to take COVID-19 vaccines


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COVID-19 numbers are rising and new variants are spreading as we speak. One of the main reasons we are losing ground is that as life “normalizes”, a large percentage of people refuse to be vaccinated. In the United States, about half the population is fully vaccinated at the time of writing. In the south where I live the numbers are much worse. As an intelligent, rational thinker with common sense, I find it strange that people don’t get vaccinated. The meteorologist in me has similar thoughts when I see people refusing to evacuate from strong storms like Hurricane Michael or Katrina. Oddly enough, the reasons for both decisions may be rooted in similar reasoning.

Adrian Floridos 2018 NPR Piece documents five reasons experts believe people can choose to stay when a dangerous hurricane approaches. Herein, I argue that a similar line of reasoning, while potentially flawed, could be at play with reluctance to vaccinate against COVID-19.

The evacuation costs. Florido wrote: “Those with the fewest resources often wait the longest to evacuate.” On the face of it, this may seem separated from the COVID-19 vaccine problem. However, many people may have concerns about the real cost of the vaccine. In reality, the cost of the vaccine is free to the public in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Others fear perceived “costs” associated with misinformation that has unfortunately infected the public. For example, there are people who believe that the vaccine implants a tracking device or affects fertility. There is no data to support these claims or the various wild claims.

Lucrative ways not to evacuate. Josh Behr is a researcher at Old Dominion University. Behr told Florido that many people can make extra money by doing sideline jobs related to hurricane cleanups or other activities. Unfortunately, many people try to make money politically or financially by also spreading misinformation about COVID-19 vaccines. While some political figures try wildly to prop up certain sections of their base, some anti-vaccine advocates are literally selling products based on misinformation. Yikes

Lines and anchors. Florido writes about how appreciating property, pets, or medical circumstances persuades some people not to leave their homes when a hurricane approaches. I also see metaphorical “Tethers and Anchors” with COVID-19. There is a skepticism for the African American community that is rooted in prehistory such as the Tuskegee experiments. As an African American, I recently raised this legitimate concern, but I also urged people to get vaccinated against COVID-19. Other people are tied to the idea that if they skew the political spectrum in a certain way, they should reject the vaccine. As a climate scientist, I am familiar with such logical errors in climate change.

Anxiety. Experts agree that people develop their own mental risk models that they believe can withstand a hurricane. Even if they are wrong, such personal risk assessments are key drivers in households. I believe the same is happening with COVID-19. Some people are legitimately concerned about the vaccine. They put the “perceived” danger of the vaccine above the “established” risks associated with the coronavirus (and its variants). Others choose isolated studies to replace large evidence of the vaccine’s safety. We often see this in climate change, too.

Limited opportunity to get out. Florido’s piece explores the socio-economic constraints that some people face who want to get out of the way. For example, during Hurricane Katrina, many people simply did not have transportation to leave. Many marginalized or elderly populations may face logistical challenges in sourcing a vaccine, which is why I am pleased that there is an increased focus on local reach or access to vaccines.

The hurricane season is a bit limited. The COVID-19 season is not. Please get vaccinated.

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About Mike Crayton

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