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Psychology: People with neutral attitudes towards vaccines are closer to anti-vaccine views

Scientific Reports

May 20, 2022

People with neutral attitudes towards vaccines may be more aligned with anti-vaccine views than pro-vaccine views, reports an analysis of vaccine-related attitudes in more than 140 countries. The findings are published in Scientific Reports.

Despite the documented safety and efficacy of vaccines, decreased vaccine coverage has led to outbreaks of previously well-controlled diseases such as measles, and the World Health Organization (WHO) has declared vaccine hesitancy a major threat to public health.

Dino Carpentras and colleagues analysed data on vaccine attitudes from 149,014 people in 144 countries from the 2018 Wellcome Global Monitor, an annual survey on people’s attitudes towards science and health. The authors mapped whether respondents felt positive, negative, or neutral towards vaccines, and then assessed how these different views related to each other. Previous research suggests that people are more influenced by those that are similar to them.

The authors found that vaccine-positive views were significantly more isolated from neutral and negative views. 16% of people who held at least one strongly anti-vaccine attitude also held a neutral attitude towards vaccines, while only 10% of people with at least one strongly pro-vaccine view also held a neutral attitude. This suggests that the neutral vaccine position is closer to anti-vaccine attitudes than pro-vaccine attitudes, and that individuals with neutral views are therefore more likely to be influenced by anti-vaccine views due to greater similarity.

The authors also analysed data from the 2018-19 Global Health Observatory (for 108 countries), which reported that countries where pro-vaccine views were comparatively more isolated from neutral and anti-vaccine views were more likely to see a decrease in measles vaccine coverage the following year. Similarly, analysis of data from the 2018-19 Vaccine Confidence Project (for 43 countries) found that greater isolation of pro-vaccine views was correlated with increased vaccine distrust.

The authors suggest that future research needs to focus on how trust in vaccines spreads through the social system via influence, rather than simply focusing on how to make vaccines trustworthy to the public. This approach could be applied to other issues such as climate change, they conclude.

doi: 10.1038/s41598-022-10069-3

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