In order to understand why some people refuse to get vaccinated or put off getting their first injection, a Polish study looked at their arguments. While the researchers are fairly pessimistic about convincing anti-vaxxers to change their minds and get a covid-19 vaccine, they recommend focusing efforts on people who are undecided about vaccination.
Researchers from the Jagiellonian University in Krakow and the SWPS University of Social Sciences and Humanities in Wroclaw, Poland have analyzed the discourse of individuals who declared themselves opposed to vaccination. Published in the journal Social Psychological Bulletin, the study, conducted online via a questionnaire, was based on an initial panel of 3,000 Polish inhabitants representative of the population. Only the people who thought that "vaccines do more harm than good" were retained for the rest of the study, a group of 492 people. These participants were classed into two categories, vaccine deniers and those who are skeptical or ambiguous.
The researchers collected a series of statements used by Polish anti-vaxxers. To list them, they attended a conference in which those opposed to the vaccine presented their arguments on the subject. The study conducted by Dr. Katarzyna Stasiuk focused on the role of individuals' personal experiences in the face of vaccine-related concerns.
"Results indicate that individuals who declared a negative experience with vaccination were persuaded by all types of anti-vaccine arguments," the study outlined."Moreover, pre-existing anti-vaccine skepticism may cause individuals to interpret negative symptoms as consequences of vaccines, further reinforcing the negative attitude." These individuals also tended to believe that vaccination could cause serious negative side effects and health problems such as autism or long-term illness. Vaccine deniers also believed that vaccines "don't protect the individual and the society against infectious diseases."
A mishmash of arguments
So had they lived through or witnessed first-hand negative personal experiences related to vaccination? Many individuals answered in the affirmative. However, despite their declaration that their attitudes were based on their own experience or what they had personally observed, "when asked about their reasoning, they were rather vague in their explanations," the study points out, noting responses such as fever or post-vaccine syndromes. In addition, some statements could not be correlated with an injection (such as autism or the development of allergies).
Regarding the reasoning of some anti-vaxxers, the researchers outlined that many said they did not remember the source of the information.
This could be related to confirmation bias, which refers to an "individual actively seeking information consistent with their pre-existing hypothesis," the researchers explain, a process that then reinforces their beliefs.
A race to convince the undecided
Participants who were classed as "ambiguous" on the subject "were mostly confident in the efficacy of vaccines, as well as them being properly researched," the study found.
However their trust still needs to be won over as "they were still susceptible to the anti-vaccine movement's statements about side effects and the 'Big Pharma conspiracy'."
By studying the "ambivalent" position of the undecided demographic, the researchers hope to determine the arguments that are most likely to sway them. This is important because they represent a larger proportion than the vaccine deniers.
On the other hand, researchers are skeptical about the possibility of changing the mind of an anti-vaxxer.