Monkeypox Vaccine Crisis: Entirely Predictable, Totally Avoidable

Gabe Zichermann
7 min readAug 10, 2022
Lining Up For Vaccines Never Looked So Glam (cc: wikimedia commons)

Monkeypox is tearing its way through communities of gay men around the country and the world. Growing exponentially like COVID-19, and with scary — if less deadly — symptoms, the similarities between the pandemics don’t stop there. They say history repeats itself — and if this monkeypox vaccine rollout is any indication, the government has learned nothing about human behavior and equity since AIDS and COVID. In fact, they are making many of the same mistakes as before.

And there’s plenty to be mad about. For example: the government sitting on hundreds of thousands of doses of the vaccine, only moving to import when there was an outcry. Or public health authorities seemingly caught unaware even though testing, vaccination and treatment solutions existed for this disease (unlike early AIDS and COVID). Or even the complete lack of consistency and appropriateness around messaging — leaving many to feel stigmatized by the gay-centric nature of monkeypox’s spread.

While most pundits are focused on the bureaucratic issues limiting supply of the vaccine, the truth is that the nation’s supply is not yet exhausted. Meaning: at present, the thing preventing people from getting a jab is not the number of jabs available, but rather something about the logistics and process of obtaining one.

To my mind, the most problematic aspect here is the lack of understanding of human behavior in response to a novel health intervention. So let’s unpack the biggest avoidable mistake being made here, and hope that someone — anyone — can finally get public health authorities to figure this out before next time.

Throughout a vaccination drive or other public health emergency, there will always be three primary groups of people, segmented by their motivations:

  1. Highly motivated to get a vaccine/treatment
  2. Resistant to getting a vaccine/treatment
  3. Unaware of the need for a vaccine/treatment

This is a classic startup “Crossing the Chasm” problem. It needs to be addressed with the established fact / design patterns from the tech industry that have made billions of people use the internet, smartphones, social media and games.

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Gabe Zichermann

Author and Public Speaker on Gamification, The 4th Industrial Revolution, the Future of Work and Failure. More about me: https://gabezichermann.com