What Makes People Hesitate to Get Vaccinated? Psychologists Break It Down

Vaccines have saved lives since the invention of smallpox vaccine over 200 years ago.
To ensure that vaccines are safe for entire communities, they must be embraced by large numbers of people. The vaccinated can offer protection to unvaccinated people, a phenomenon known as "herd immunity".

This is unfortunately too common. For example, global cases rose by 30% because of hesitancy about the measles vaccine.

Why is vaccine hesitancy so common? There are many factors that can cause vaccine hesitancy, but they will vary from person to person.

However, clinical psychologists who specialize in anxiety and avoidance believe that one major factor is fear, specifically fear of death. We also think about how to manage this fear.

Although vaccination rates are rising, there is still fear.

According to the World Health Organization vaccine hesitancy ranks among the top 10 threats to global health.

COVID has seen a significant problem in refusing and delaying vaccinations, with anti-vax protests dominating the news cycle over recent months.

Despite some reports, vaccine hesitancy is still a significant issue in Australia.

In many areas of the country, vaccine rates are expected to rise to 85 percent or more. A Sydney Morning Herald survey found that only 9 percent of adults thought they would not get vaccinated in the last month.

According to the article, "vaccine fear has plunged to a new record low".

Despite the fact that the data were true, we found the interpretation to be flawed.

Fear has not decreased in any significant way. Increases in vaccination uptake are being driven by mandatory vaccination of certain communities and severe disadvantages for those who refuse.

Many Australian states have mandatory vaccinations for many occupations. This includes teachers, nurses, quarantine workers and construction workers. It can be difficult to decide whether to get vaccinated when you have to work in order to provide food for your family.

Politicians have also foreshadowed many freedoms for the vaccinated. The current freedoms that are available to Sydneysiders who have been fully vaccinated include visitors to your home, access to retail stores, salons and hairdressers, as well as access to bars, gyms and pools.

Mandatory vaccinations and incentives would not be needed if people were not vaccine-sceptical. Many people don't want or need to be vaccinated.

Why do people delay getting vaccinated or refuse to get it?

Complacency is a leading reason for vaccine hesitancy according to the WHO.

How can this be? COVID has infected more than 240 million people and killed almost five million people worldwide.

How can anyone be complacent in the face of such numbers? Why is it that we see unmasked protestors, seemingly unaware of the threat?

This behavior is best explained by the psychological theory of terror management theory. This theory states that humans cannot face the harsh reality of death and engage in denial.

We consider ourselves to be greater than animals, unaffected by many of their problems and destined for immortality together with the gods.

One group of researchers stated that humans would not be able to function with equanimity in the event they believed they were more important and enduring than lizards, apes, or lima bean.

Numerous studies conducted in social psychology laboratories show that participants are more likely to defend their cultural and religious beliefs and freedoms when they are reminded of their death.

Participants can even be aggressive towards people with opposing religious or political ideologies when reminded of the possibility of death. To help ease our fear of death, we hold on to our "rightness" or "specialness".

We may become convinced of our superiority and ignore the warnings of modern medicine.

Researchers from the University of Chicago Divinity School found that half of participants agreed to the statement "God will save me from being infected"

We make a fool of ourselves to believe we can overcome our fear of death.

If the members of our social group also share similar views, this effect will be amplified. People will defend their beliefs and values when they are reminded of the possibility of death.

This could be a result of COVID. If these attitudes are shared and valued by our culture, subgroup, or society, it may lead to us becoming more individualistic, distrusting science, government, or more trusting God's ability for protection.

COVID is a sociopsychological experiment that has been made possible by our daily existence. All the behaviors seen in the laboratory are triggered by daily death counts and case numbers.

These include aggression against people who are different than us and denial of risk. The pandemic was characterized by racism towards people of Asian origin.

The early deaths from the vaccines themselves were another reason to be cautious and avoid.

Global vaccination hesitancy will continue to be a problem. However, we must accept ourselves as we are.

The rapid uptake of vaccines will be a key issue as COVID continues its mutation.

Vaccine hesitancy is a global epidemic that will continue to kill thousands until its root causes are understood and addressed.

Ross G. Menzies is Professor at the Graduate School of Health, University of Technology Sydney. Rachel E. Menzies is a postdoctoral researcher, University of Sydney.

This article was republished by The Conversation under Creative Commons. You can read the original article.

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