Even those who might seem to fit the stereotype at first glance may have more to their story. Steward, for example, is a Christian pastor living in rural South Carolina who leans conservative. But his hesitancy wasn’t because of his religion or politics; it was because he was trying to understand the FDA’s approval process and how the vaccine would affect his health.
People are complicated, and their reasons for not getting the vaccine are personal. Respect those reasons and you might have a more productive conversation.
See if the person is open to the conversation. Steward confesses that he questioned whether covid was real, whether vaccines actually made sense, and whether he had options besides the vaccine. But he was always open to having a conversation. “If I wanted to make the right decision, I needed to hear some opposing viewpoints,” he says.
A person within the 14% of Americans who have decided they will definitely not get the vaccine probably won’t be open to anything you say. It might be a better use of your time and energy to simply back away.
Be kind—or at least civil. Maybe you’re enraged by what someone says, or you find it hard to understand. But the person you are trying to communicate with will shut you out immediately if you are disrespectful. As I mentioned in an earlier piece about talking to conspiracy theorists, berating or disrespecting someone automatically closes the door to any discussion that could otherwise occur.
Identify the obstacle. For many unvaccinated people, the problem isn’t that they are opposed to vaccines so much as that they need help getting one. Perhaps they’re afraid of needles or are having trouble figuring out how to get an appointment. Maybe they’ve heard about side effects and won’t be able to take time off work if they don’t feel well. Ask if there’s anything you can do to ease their burden or help eliminate an obstacle.
Consider the humble text. As I’ve written before, confronting people on social media—in Facebook posts, Twitter replies, Instagram comments—isn’t helpful and can antagonize others. If you feel compelled to respond to someone who posts about questioning the vaccine, choose a more private avenue, like texting.
Tailor your argument to the person. Much of the messaging around vaccinations has involved either commands (“Get the vaccine now”) or implicit shaming (“If you don’t get the vaccine, you are a bad person”). It can be more effective to use language reinforcing the fact that the vaccination process is in the individual’s own hands.
Daniel Croymans, a physician in the UCLA system, recently co-led a study in which he found that “ownership” language helped get people to their covid-19 vaccine appointments. Ownership language refers to words suggesting that vaccination is up to the person: “Claim your dose” or “The vaccine has been made available for you,” for example. In Croymans’s study, texts with ownership language were notably more successful in getting elderly people with preexisting conditions to their first shot appointment than texts that included informational messaging. “If you think it’s yours, then you are more likely to value it and appreciate it,” Croymans says.
Croymans says the study highlights the importance of creating personalized messages that empower rather than shame vaccine-hesitant people. Anyone who wants to help persuade others to get the vaccine can try the same tactic.
When talking with an unvaccinated person, consider the person’s specific worries and try to address them in a way that will feel relevant. Don’t use jargon or talk down. Repeat the concerns the person has shared to show that you are listening, and think about what might reassure you if you were feeling the same way.
The Download: child online safety laws, and ClimateTech is coming
Matt Kaeberlein is what you might call a dog person. He has grown up with dogs and describes his German shepherd, Dobby, as “really special.” But Dobby is 14 years old—around 98 in dog years.
Kaeberlein is co-director of the Dog Aging Project, an ambitious research effort to track the aging process of tens of thousands of companion dogs across the US. He is one of a handful of scientists on a mission to improve, delay, and possibly reverse that process to help them live longer, healthier lives.
And dogs are just the beginning. One day, this research could help to prolong the lives of humans. Read the full story.
We can still have nice things
A place for comfort, fun and distraction in these weird times. (Got any ideas? Drop me a line or tweet ’em at me.)
+ All hail the unsung women of indie sleaze.
+ It’s officially October!
+ This list of sartorial advice has been entertaining us at MIT Technology Review—how many points do you agree with?
+ Put down the expired milk, it’s got a whole lot more to give. 🥛
+ Some top tips for remembering your dreams more fully: should you want to, that is.
Everything you need to know about artificial wombs
The technology would likely be used first on infants born at 22 or 23 weeks who don’t have many other options. “You don’t want to put an infant on this device who would otherwise do well with conventional therapy,” Mychaliska says. At 22 weeks gestation, babies are tiny, often weighing less than a pound. And their lungs are still developing. When researchers looked at babies born between 2013 and 2018, survival among those who were resuscitated at 22 weeks was 30%. That number rose to nearly 56% at 23 weeks. And babies born at that stage who do survive have an increased risk of neurodevelopmental problems, cerebral palsy, mobility problems, hearing impairments, and other disabilities.
Selecting the right participants will be tricky. Some experts argue that gestational age shouldn’t be the only criteria. One complicating factor is that prognosis varies widely from center to center, and it’s improving as hospitals learn how best to treat these preemies. At the University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital, for example, survival rates are much higher than average: 64% for babies born at 22 weeks. They’ve even managed to keep a handful of infants born at 21 weeks alive. “These babies are not a hopeless case. They very much can survive. They very much can thrive if you are managing them appropriately,” says Brady Thomas, a neonatologist at Stead. “Are you really going to make that much of a bigger impact by adding in this technology, and what risks might exist to those patients as you’re starting to trial it?”
Prognosis also varies widely from baby to baby depending on a variety of factors. “The girls do better than the boys. The bigger ones do better than the smaller ones,” says Mark Mercurio, a neonatologist and pediatric bioethicist at the Yale School of Medicine. So “how bad does the prognosis with current therapy need to be to justify use of an artificial womb?” That’s a question Mercurio would like to see answered.
What are the risks?
One ever-present concern in the tiniest babies is brain bleeds. “That’s due to a number of factors—a combination of their brain immaturity, and in part associated with the treatment that we provide,” Mychaliska says. Babies in an artificial womb would need to be on a blood thinner to prevent clots from forming where the tubes enter the body. “I believe that places a premature infant at very high risk for brain bleeding,” he says.
And it’s not just about the baby. To be eligible for EXTEND, infants must be delivered via cesarean section, which puts the pregnant person at higher risk for infection and bleeding. Delivery via a C-section can also have an impact on future pregnancies.
So if it works, could babies be grown entirely outside the womb?
Not anytime soon. Maybe not ever. In a paper published in 2022, Flake and his colleagues called this scenario “a technically and developmentally naive, yet sensationally speculative, pipe dream.” The problem is twofold. First, fetal development is a carefully choreographed process that relies on chemical communication between the pregnant parent’s body and the fetus. Even if researchers understood all the factors that contribute to fetal development—and they don’t—there’s no guarantee they could recreate those conditions.
The second issue is size. The artificial womb systems being developed require doctors to insert a small tube into the infant’s umbilical cord to deliver oxygenated blood. The smaller the umbilical cord, the more difficult this becomes.
What are the ethical concerns?
In the near term, there are concerns about how to ensure that researchers are obtaining proper informed consent from parents who may be desperate to save their babies. “This is an issue that comes up with lots of last-chance therapies,” says Vardit Ravitsky, a bioethicist and president of the Hastings Center, a bioethics research institute.
The Download: brain bandwidth, and artificial wombs
Last week, Elon Musk made the bold assertion that sticking electrodes in people’s heads is going to lead to a huge increase in the rate of data transfer out of, and into, human brains.
The occasion of Musk’s post was the announcement by Neuralink, his brain-computer interface company, that it was officially seeking the first volunteer to receive an implant that contains more than twice the number of electrodes than previous versions to collect more data from more nerve cells.
The entrepreneur mentioned a long-term goal of vastly increasing “bandwidth” between people, or people and machines, by a factor of 1,000 or more. But what does he mean, and is it even possible? Read the full story.
This story is from The Checkup, MIT Technology Review’s weekly biotech newsletter. Sign up to receive it in your inbox every Thursday.
Everything you need to know about artificial wombs
Earlier this month, US Food and Drug Administration advisors met to discuss how to move research on artificial wombs from animals into humans.
These medical devices are designed to give extremely premature infants a bit more time to develop in a womb-like environment before entering the outside world. They have been tested with hundreds of lambs (and some piglets), but animal models can’t fully predict how the technology will work for humans.