Not Everyone Who Refuses To Vaccinate Is Politically Motivated

It’s tempting to lump non-vaccinators into a single category, a politically charged cohort of angry commenters and conspiracy theorists who believe that vaccines cause autism despite all scientific evidence to the contrary. In reality, though, it’s more complicated.

In fact, that description represents just one of four different behavioral patterns that lead to vaccine refusal, according to a study published this month in the journal Policy Insights from the Behavioral and Brain Sciences. The study broke vaccine refusal into four broad categories: complacency, inconvenience, a lack of confidence, and a rational calculation of pros and cons.

“Vaccination is one of the most effective public health interventions,” said Cornelia Betsch, a study author and scientific manager of the Center of Empirical Research in Economics and Behavioral Sciences at the Universität Erfurt in Germany. In addition to reducing societal inequities and poverty, vaccines have been proven safe and effective many times over, with some public health experts going so far as to argue that vaccination should be as non-negotiable as wearing a seat belt.

But in order for a population to be protected from an infectious disease, such as polo or measles, a critical number of people in the community must be immunized. This concept is known as herd immunity. Once the immunization rate falls below 95 percent of the population, those who are too young or too sick to received vaccines are left vulnerable to disease.

“From a public health point of view, it is important to understand what the barriers and enablers of vaccination are,” said Betsch, who spoke on behalf of the research team.

Distinction is key. If we better understand the nuances in non-vaccinators’ psychological processes, we can be more effective in establishing targeted public health campaigns and interventions that bolster vaccination rates.

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