• Bill Holmes

Could Risk Management Techniques Have Helped With The Vaccination Decision?

It all starts with good data!

“Who are you going to believe? Leading authorities on medical science, or 800 memes on your cousin’s Facebook page?” Samantha Bee

“Covid-19 vaccine is the new baptism.” Nkwachukwu Ogbuagu

“I am alive, well and fully vaccinated, despite pledging allegiance to no authority. Listening to experts is not complacency, it's just an act of common sense humanity.” Abhijit Naskar

Those three quotes capture the dilemma that we all faced when making the vaccination decision.

Early in the pandemic, the government and media were revealed to be making obviously wrong and contradicting statements (masks don’t work, then masks are mandatory), which discredited them as a reliable source of scientific data. To make things worse, they refused to correct obvious mistakes and failed to provide raw data so we could conduct our own analysis.

From a risk management perspective, we had a data quality problem.

Immediately after the first emergency vaccine was approved, people took passionate positions on both sides of the issue. To make matters even worse, many “experts” changed their opinion on the vaccine immediately after the election. If you were primed for a certain position on the vaccine, you could easily find multiple sources that supported and amplified your preconceived notions.

From a risk management perspective, we had a confirmation bias problem.

It was also a bad risk management practice to form an opinion quickly!

Let me share my experience. My wife and daughter are both nurses. My wife worked in a skilled care facility helping with the elderly, so she had daily contact with the most vulnerable demographic group. My daughter worked in a negative pressure COVID -19 building at John’s Hopkins hospital, so she was in contact with infected patients daily. Both were offered the vaccine very early and both got opinions from the medical professionals they worked with.

They both got vaccinated.

Immediately after they were vaccinated, they both asked me if I was going to get vaccinated. I told them I had not made a decision yet. When they pressed me, I said that no one was offering me a vaccine yet, so there was no reason to decide.

This is a risk management technique is known as “waiting for the last responsible moment to make a decision.” By waiting, I had access to all the information that I would ever have. I got to observe people who had been vaccinated and look closely at adverse reactions to the vaccine. I was then able to compare those reactions (as best as possible) to the impact of catching the virus.

Several months after my wife got vaccinated, I got a call from our local health department notifying me that I was now eligible for the vaccine. I looked at all the available data and made my decision.

In my next post I’ll discuss how I used other risk management techniques to arrive at that decision.


The discourse around every public issue would be much more productive if data were presented by people who know something about risk. Risk management is a skill that must be taught, not something that should be left to untrained media or government personnel. Have you ever heard a discussion, in any venue, about the probability and impact of ANY risk? No. At best, you are provided with half the risk. That is why people are so passionate about positions that are based exclusively on anecdotal information. What a failure by those who are charged with providing us with actionable information.

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