Rhetoric, Persuasion, Compulsion, and the Stubborn Problem of Vaccine Hesitancy

Perspect Biol Med. 2022;65(1):106-123. doi: 10.1353/pbm.2022.0006.


Despite the impact of vaccination on the control and prevention of many infectious diseases, vaccine opposition and hesitancy remain significant barriers to fully protecting individuals and communities against serious disease. The primary response to the problem of vaccine hesitancy includes persuasion and some degree of compulsion, usually in the form of vaccine mandates. Persuasion, if it can be successfully leveraged to provide sufficient control of disease spread, is the ethically preferred approach. Yet persuasion has proven less than adequate, leading to increasing calls for vaccination mandates and the elimination of nonmedical exemptions to those mandates. Four scholars have recently examined the underlying causes of vaccine hesitancy in the interest of improving rhetoric surrounding vaccination. This article reviews those books and offers suggestions for optimizing the strategy of persuasion in the interest of reducing the need for compulsion.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Patient Acceptance of Health Care
  • Persuasive Communication*
  • Vaccination
  • Vaccination Hesitancy
  • Vaccines*


  • Vaccines