Many who refuse to get COVID vaccine struggle to cite valid reasons for hesitation

KRAKÓW, Poland — Why are so many people vehemently opposed to receiving the COVID-19 vaccine? Similarly, why do so many others habitually kick the vaccine can further down the road, telling themselves they’ll eventually get the vaccine. Polish researchers from Jagiellonian University and the SWPS University of Social Sciences and Humanities believe they have the answers to why people are turning away from vaccines.

Ultimately, study authors conclude anti-vaxxers get most of their motivation from a very vague negative attitude toward vaccines that has little basis in much of anything resembling concrete science or facts. After surveying a group of 492 people who consider themselves either ambiguous towards or opposing vaccination, a number of recurring themes emerged including mistrust in doctors, mistrust in the greater medical community, and a tendency to buy in to attention-grabbing anti-vaccine arguments and headlines.

Confusingly, most participants told researchers right off the bat that their personal aversion to the COVID-19 vaccines are based on their own or other peoples’ negative experiences with vaccines. However, when asked to actually explain such occurrences, pretty much all of them fell back on vague explanations. For example, many said they simply couldn’t remember where they had originally heard that vaccines were harmful. Others parroted common anti-vax claims such as vaccines cause autism, allergies, or birth defects, without citing any research or proof to back up their beliefs.

People seek out information that confirms their own opinions

Study authors believe the human tendency to seek out and remember information in support of beliefs they already have, which scientists call confirmation bias.

“Confirmation bias consists of an individual actively seeking information consistent with their pre-existing hypothesis, and avoiding information indicative of alternative explanations,” researchers explain in a media release. “Therefore, a pre-existing negative attitude toward vaccines may cause individuals to interpret negative symptoms as consequences of vaccines, further reinforcing the negative attitude.”

Additionally, it’s also common for people to forget where they originally learned or heard about something if they hear the information from multiple sources. In some cases, the info can blend together with everyday life, leading an individual to confuse something they read online with a real-life experience. The research team thinks this may have contributed to their findings as well.

Choosing anti-vaxxers over doctors?

Study authors add that their data indicates anti-vaxxers believe vaccines almost always cause serious side-effects, fail to protect society from disease, and lack proper testing before manufacturers distribute them to the public. Troublingly, most vaccine deniers also believe that anti-vaccination leaders, somehow, have more reliable information on all of these issues than real doctors. In their view, the people in charge of anti-vaccine websites and social media care more about the public’s health than any doctor or government official.

For what it’s worth, those who consider themselves merely “vaccine hesitant” told study authors they generally believe vaccines are effective and properly developed. Researchers find that same group is very susceptible to the anti-vaccine movement’s statements and info detailing the “Big Pharma” conspiracy. In other words, vaccine hesitant individuals can very much go in either a pro or anti-vaccine direction depending on the information they encounter on a given day.

Researchers conclude by noting there is little scientific evidence to date suggesting anti-vaxxers’ minds can be changed. So, they recommend that vaccination awareness campaigns focus their efforts on reaching the hesitant contingent instead.

The findings appear in the journal Social Psychological Bulletin.

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