Friday 8 January 2021 9:36 pm

Life after lockdown: Negotiating our way to herd immunity

Former Google strategist Paul Alexander, founder and president of London-based Alexander & Associates, argues negotiation principles could play a role in achieving herd immunity via a comprehensive Covid-19 vaccination programme.  

Two vaccines are being rolled out across the UK as we speak. Care homes, once the frontline of the pandemic, are now rapidly becoming part of the solution. For Britain, the beginning of the end may be to reach vaccine herd immunity.

According to Professor Roy Anderson of Imperial College London, an epidemiologist, up to 90 per cent of adults may need to be jabbed to achieve nationwide herd immunity, depending on R-rates and vaccine efficacy. However, even 70 per cent looks challenging, with some polls estimating acceptance under 50 per cent.

What we need to remember, this is not a one-shot game. It is two shots, at precise intervals, more than doubling failure rates. And not a one-time affair, possibly annually, as the South African mutation indicates.. To exit, and return to normal, we may need 70 per cent rolling vaccinations, thereby creating a vaccine-taking culture.

Read more: Pfizer vaccine ‘appears effective’ against new Covid strains

Reasonable doubts

Vaccine reluctant groups do complicate this process, largely vulnerable over 60s as well as super-spreaders, many young and healthy people. Both critical but stubborn groups. And then there are vaccine refusers: long-term opponents of vaccines such as the MMR cocktail.

Doubts are understandable, particularly given the speed at which these vaccines have been developed. Moreover, this vaccination has been made non-mandatory, even though governments may restrict or even ban the unvaccinated from bars and planes.

Therefore, maybe the hesitant merely need a nudge. Such theories suggest people into making better life choices. Rather than mandating, it’s all about focusing attention. Put the fruit where you can see it, so to say. Western governments such as Britain typically default to nudge tactics when a forced approach fails.

Using influencers may be an intelligent way of nudging; imagine if David Attenborough and Nigel Farage took the jab together. Moreover, education is key, explaining that it was scientific brilliance meeting commitment and resources that led to the vaccine in question. Scientific peer reviews skipped and overlapping trials cut no corners.

In other words, nudge, poke and push in various ways; while the ‘firehose’ of social media disinformation is removed as it influences many who are hesitant.

The next step is to explain, reassure, inspire and use celebs. And even use guilt, rhetoric and peer pressure.

Read more: Moderna’s Covid vaccine gets green light from UK

Negotiation principles

Can negotiation principles help in this process? As power is shared between citizens and the state, they do share a common interest, namely that life returns to normal and, perhaps more importantly, stays that way. Trust needs to be built: it’s an implicit negotiation.

Negotiation is essentially a series of conversations that may lead to an agreement. The remaining hesitant, like floating voters, might most value choice as their antidote to nervousness and mistrust. The multiple vaccine types here could offer a solution, as it enables a choice.

It is vital that any government or authority recognises the groups they can actually negotiate with.

For example, by turning them from dissenters into informed consumers. Vital during this process is how the message lands: it is not about what you say, but how it is received. In other words, what they hear.

Like any successful negotiation turnarounds, this requires a reset, as this government understands the importance of transparency, debate and choice. So, in other words, replace emotion, the online carrier of misinformation, with reason. I am confident that a libertarian-styled Conservative government can pitch this.

I suggest the government should prepare to offer choice, if nudging is not enough. A negotiated settlement is what we should be after, so we can leave these lockdowns behind us once and for all.

Paul Alexander runs a strategic negotiation practice, Alexander & Associates. He can be reached via Twitter: @AlexNegotiation

Read more: Nearly 1.5m in the UK have received first Covid vaccine jab