The psychology of vaccine hesitancy and refusal – Mail and Guardian

The World Mental Health Day campaign has chosen “Mental Health in an Unequal World” as the theme for 2021. This is partly to raise awareness of the disparities between countries and individuals that has been highlighted by the Covid-19 pandemic over the past two years.  

Access to health-care resources is impinging the ability of countries around the world to address the effects of the pandemic, and stark inequality regarding pivotal elements such as access to vaccines have become visible. Obtaining, storing and distributing vaccines has proven to add another burden to countries that are already financially and resource-impeded. 

Yet, once South Africa secured adequate amounts of vaccines, we were faced with a baffling dilemma. How to get people to actually take it? In trying to understand the psychology behind vaccine hesitancy, it is interesting to note that even before the outbreak of the Covid-19 virus the World Health Organisation listed vaccine hesitancy (delaying or refusing vaccination) as one of the top 10 threats to global health.

Why people refuse or resist vaccination

To understand why people — who are otherwise reasonable, conscientious and informed individuals — would refuse or resist vaccination, it is helpful to look at the 5C model. The first aspect is confidence — the extent to which the person trusts that the vaccine is safe and will in fact do what it is said to do. Confidence is also affected by the level of trust that the individual has in the system that dispatches the vaccine — consequently, individuals who are hesitant to vaccinate are likely to be suspicious of authority figures and structures. 

Another factor is the number of constraints individuals face in getting access to the vaccine. If there are many barriers (for example, unable to afford transport to the vaccination site) in terms of the calculation of costs versus benefits, it is easier to delay or refuse vaccination. Interestingly, perceived scarcity makes items more desirable. Perhaps it is the very fact that the vaccine is free and available that makes people not interested in receiving it. 

Having a sense of collective responsibility and altruism are important characteristics in those who submit to vaccination. People who refuse vaccination tend to be more individualistically orientated and less motivated by the greater good of all, than by their own personal preferences. 

And this brings …….


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