With California just weeks away from a full re-opening, the state has sent out a small army of people who are “knocking on doors in order to get as many Californians vaccinated as possible,” the Sacramento Bee reported last week. Did no one think this might be a bad idea?
We’re not reading evil intent into the program, in which an estimated 2,000 “are employed,” says the Bee, to nag the unvaccinated. We’re willing to accept that it’s a good-faith effort.
“Nag” is, of course, our word. The governor says the effort is simply a “peer-to-peer” appeal to be immunized that includes “support to help overcome barriers to vaccinations.” Not all will see it that way, though. As one of the paid participants said, “not everybody is trusting of folks that come to their door.”
When the Bee published, the “door-to-door efforts” were “taking place in Alameda, Fresno, Kern, Los Angeles, Merced, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, Sacramento, San Diego, Santa Barbara, Tulare and Ventura counties.” At that point, canvassers had “so far knocked on more than 231,000 doors, completed more than 1.3 million calls, and have made 13,000 appointments.”
The goal is to ensure that 70% of Californians are vaccinated so that herd immunity can be reached. But is sending agents of the state home to home the best way to achieve it? Nagging often provokes a response opposite the one that was hoped for, and surely some of the program’s targets will react in exactly that way. People who perceive they are being badgered often feel manipulated, resentful, and picked on as second-class citizens. The experience is only made worse when the scolding is done on the front porch by a representative of the government.
Again, we have no reason to believe the campaign is based on anything but good intentions. Yet it feels uncomfortably like, and is consistent with, the drought shaming we went through a few years ago, when “people in parched California areas” called “water utility hotlines to snitch on their neighbors” who were using too much water, “usually by watering lawns, washing cars or filling pools.” The state became an enabler of those who found opportunities to seek revenge on neighbors they’d been feuding with or had a simmering grudge against.
During the height of the water scare, the “Drought Czar” – another name for the Sacramento Utilities Department sustainability manager – told the media he was “pleasantly surprised” that people turned in their neighbors in the high numbers they did. There was even a state-run website that allowed “residents (to) tattle on water wasters, from neighbors with leaky sprinklers to waiters who serve water without asking.”
A little over the line? Yeah, more than a little.
The state contributed $10 million to the door-knock program, “which is being led by Healthy Future California and UCLA, in partnership with 70 community-based organizations,” says the Bee. But is this really the best way to boost participation? Ohio Republican Gov. Mike DeWine dedicated $5 million to a vaccine lottery that automatically enters those over the age of 18 who have received at least one vaccination in a series of weekly $1 million drawings. Maybe that’s not the most ideal approach, either. But at least it doesn’t raise memories of Iron Curtain regimes where sons turned in fathers because they weren’t devoted enough to the state.
Kerry Jackson is a fellow with the Center for California Reform at the Pacific Research Institute.