Updated: Jun 12
The world is going through one of the biggest, most radical shifts it has seen in modern times. Many are calling this era definitive of a generation. It is said that each generation goes through its major test. For generations past, that may have been world war one, World War II, the Vietnam war, or the Cuban missile crisis. For us right now, our test is battling a never-before- seen virus which has touched the lives of every person on the planet. The way that governments and international organizations have handled the lockdown and its lawmaking have touched the lives of millions.
One such controversial law that has been the subject of much debate is mandated vaccines. The opinions on this matter are divided, with both proponents and opponents expressing their views. During times of uncertainty, many Americans rely on the government and its agencies for credible information. In the case of disseminating information about COVID-19, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has emerged as a leading authority. The CDC: Very convincing in its efforts, this organization has been at the forefront of providing essential guidance and answers. Numerous Americans have turned to the CDC's website, recognizing it as a trusted source, to seek reliable information and find reassurance amidst the ongoing pandemic.
In an article on the CDC’s main website regarding “myths and facts” about COVID-19 vaccines written this year, ethos and logos are employed in order to persuade Americans that the vaccine is "safe and effective.” Numerous rhetorical strategies were utilized in order to persuade us that everyone should get vaccinated regardless of your medical health status or personal belief system. Although I do not agree, I can easily see how this article is extremely persuasive. It sounds like its coming from a source you can trust. It sounds friendly, simple, and right.
The CDC utilizes ethos to establish credibility and authority by being a.gov website. Vast numbers of people will automatically believe authority. Because of this, most of the public will not research who is really behind the CDC, who actually wrote the article, who developed the science being discussed, or any other number of important elements such as looking at which studies the CDC is using to support its claims. Of course, there are also many people who do not trust authority. But, these numbers are dwarfed by those who do. In a way, both groups are at a disadvantage because, in my opinion, the best side to be on is simply to be a skeptic. And by “skeptic”, I mean that in the traditional Greek sense of the word. A skeptic is someone who would perform a thorough evaluation from an unbiased standpoint in order to sift through the article in a logical and coherent manner. But, with the challenges of the daily grind while living in a world of information overload, it is common knowledge that most people will not do this. The CDC takes advantage of the human organism’s evolutionary bias to save energy by asserting implied authority.
The article uses the rhetorical strategies of definition, argument, classification and division, description, comparison and contrast, and cause-and-effect in order to persuade us to get vaccinated.
In the introductory paragraph, the CDC uses logos to educate us on how viral variance is caused by giving a simple yet science-language-tinged definition and description of how the process works (para 1-6). This strategy works to disarm us and move our minds into the subconscious stance of “student”. The question of whether or not to believe them is not addressed. By moving quickly to educate us, the CDC’s authority is further established.
Next, the CDC uses comparison and contrast in order to elaborate on how mRNA vaccines are different from traditional vaccines, but that they are still "safe and effective” (para 10-12). Comparing mRNA vaccines to traditional vaccines, the CDC attempts to gain more trust from us by sounding authoritative and scholarly. Here, the CDC only gives a few sentences as to how mRNA, antigens, and white blood cells work in the body. The way the CDC explains this extremely complicated process is simplistic. To the average member of the public, the simplicity and apparent logic of this paragraph would seem reassuring.
Next, using the strategy of argument, the article says “No” to rumors that the vaccines contain microchips or magnetic components. Using the rhetorical strategy of argument, the CDC is attempting to persuade the audience that these rumors are not true. The CDC doesn't give any more information about the topic. They do not give any supporting evidence or links to where the public can check on the internal manufacturing processes of the vaccines. The article just refutes the rumors and moves on (para 13-18).
The article then goes on to use the same method to flatly refute other questions that Americans have, such as if the vaccine can cause viral shedding or if the vaccine can alter your DNA. These are valid questions from a population which has not gone through decades of schooling in the biological sciences. Yet here, the CDC doesn't do much teaching. It just says “no”, gives a very limited answer and then moves on to next topic. It is clear that the CDC is relying on the fact that it is a government organization in order to persuade the audience. Some of the links to “learn more” are just more links to the CDC. So, the CDC is framing itself as the ultimate authority by citing itself.
The article additionally employs the cause-and-effect rhetorical strategy in debunking more myths. In a paragraph regarding menstrual cycles, the article says that the vaccine could not cause alterations in menstrual cycles, but that other things such as stress could (para 21). Here, the cause-and-effect strategy is implemented in an interesting way. The strategy is wrapped up in more teacher vs. student atmosphere.
In conclusion, although the article gives little to no outside supporting evidence, and although I disagree with mandated vaccines as law, the authoritarian yet friendly tone of the article is enough to make most people feel that they don’t need to do more research and that all is well.
CDC. October 4, 2021. Myths and Facts About Covid 19 Vaccines. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/facts.html
The New Harbrace Guide to Writing: Genres for Composing, 3rd edition by Cheryl Glenn. Cengage Learning, 2018. ISBN: 978-1305956780