This summer, Florida was declared the “epicenter” of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. With the Delta variant surging and politicians resistant to public health mandates, the state’s hospitals quickly filled. Despite the vaccination of more than half the population, some counties lagged behind, with unmasked life resuming as if the virus had run its course. By August 25th, the New York Times reported that the impact of the disease in Florida was worse than ever.
As the number of cases and deaths mounted higher, vaccine holdouts were more likely to see the coronavirus ravage their families and communities — which in turn convinced many to just get the shot. Even so, skeptics remain. While nobody holds out much hope of convincing staunch anti-vaxxers, the medical community continues to look for inroads with the “vaccine hesitant” — that persuadable segment of people who simply need the right nudge to make the sound decision.
Lo and behold, a doctor in Florida has pioneered one approach that could make all the difference: drop in at happy hour.
Yes, a Florida man named Mark Hall received a vaccine dose after striking up a conversation with neurosurgeon Duane Mitchell, when the two happened to sit next to each other in a Gainesville sports bar called Spurrier’s Gridiron Grille. Upon learning Mitchell’s profession, Hall, who had reportedly made no plans to get vaccinated after extensive personal research, laid out his questions and concerns for some three hours. Mitchell, though he didn’t expect to change Hall’s mind, gamely responded with all the reliable science and facts at his disposal, until Hall said he was satisfied and would get the jab with the doctor present.
“It’s because I shook a man’s hand, I can look him in the eye, and I knew with sincere conviction that he meant everything that he said,” Hall told WFTV, an Orlando-based news affiliate. “In a world of distrust you don’t know what’s right, what’s wrong. I said, ‘You know what? If he’s saying, then that’s how I know.’”
Hell yeah, brother. Say it with me now: dudes rock.
Clearly, we’ve been going about this vaccination push all wrong. It’s true that messaging from the White House, CDC, state governments, employers, medical experts and even celebrities has taken us to the point where a full two-thirds of Americans have had at least one shot, and 57 percent are fully inoculated. If we dispatch teams of affable doctors to sports bars, however, we could easily bump those stats. There’s nothing that makes a random guy agree with you like enjoying a plate of buffalo wings and a few cold ones while commiserating about how your local team is blowing it in the playoffs. Just like that, you’re the most trustworthy man in the world.
Do I care that there’s a subset of men who won’t listen to reason until it’s laid out for them by a dude they shared counter space with while getting a buzz on? Not in the slightest. Whatever works! I mostly see it as heartwarming evidence against stereotypes of meathead aggression wherever lots of guys have gathered to drink and root for pro athletes. TV and movies would have you believe that fights break out over the smallest provocations, but, in fact, it’s far more likely that a bro ends up hugging someone he met a couple beers ago. Contrary to your typical reality show contestant, he’s there to make friends. And if he has to reevaluate his stance on vaccines in order to make the connection, there’s decent odds he’ll take the leap.
It’s at the bar where a man feels on equal footing with everybody else. The patrons all get the same menu, the same service, the same seats and the same bathrooms. They’re all there to unwind and, ideally, shoot the breeze. It makes no sense to wage a culture war here as you would on Facebook or Twitter, since whatever differences you have are overwhelmed by the obvious things you have in common. In retrospect, we should have had vaccine ambassadors stationed at pubs and taprooms across the country for months now. Let them lie in wait until a patron says he’s not letting Big Pharma inject him with an “experimental” formula, then hit him with: “I hear ya, bud. And I’m no fan of Biden. But I got the Moderna this week, and I’ve never felt better.” We could even go a step further and administer vaccines right on the spot.
I’m not exaggerating when I say that the fraternal vibes arising from a combination of booze and the NFL can be harnessed for the greater good. The concept of “individual choice” flies out the window as soon as dudes decide they want to socially bond with other dudes in their immediate vicinity. Dr. Fauci, you’ve done all you can. It’s time for Dr. Budweiser to step in. And hey, once we’ve immunized this bunch, they’ll be in the perfect spot for a toast to their health.