Feb 20, 2021 - Health

Breaking down the psychology of vaccine hesitancy

A woman receives a COVID-19 vaccine from a U.S. service member in Boston on Feb. 16.

A woman receives a COVID-19 vaccine from a U.S. service member in Boston on Feb. 16. Photo: Joseph Prezioso/AFP via Getty Images

A new survey identifies some of the psychological barriers to taking vaccines — and how to overcome them.

The big picture: With COVID vaccine production and distribution ramping up, we're going to reach a moment when supply exceeds demand, which puts a premium on finding ways to persuade the persuadable on the value of vaccines.

What's happening: In a survey released on Friday, Surgo Ventures polled nearly 3,000 U.S. adults to determine how best to reach the vaccine-hesitant.

  • The results were broken down into five groups based on their attitudes toward the vaccines.

By the numbers:

  1. 40% of respondents fell into the enthusiastic camp and reported eagerness to get vaccinated as soon as possible.
  2. Another 20% were in the watchful group, which means they weren't against the vaccine, but were worried about side effects and didn't want to be first in line.
  3. 14% were classified as cost-anxious — they tended to be younger and live in rural areas, and they perceived that the costs of the vaccine in time and money exceeded the benefits.
  4. 9% were system distrusters, who were more likely to be minorities, and believed the vaccine had not been adequately tested for their group.
  5. The last 17% were conspiracy believers who tended to be Republican and had little fear of COVID-19 itself. They often subscribed to more outlandish and harmful theories about vaccines.

Be smart: Reaching different groups demands different strategies, according to the survey's authors.

  • The enthusiastic just need easy access to the vaccine, while the watchful can be persuaded by seeing friends and community members get shots.
  • The cost-anxious can be reached through lower prices and access, while the system distrusters can be reached through listening sessions that air their concerns.
  • Conspiracy believers, however, should be deprioritized, allowing resources to flow to more persuadable groups.

The bottom line: We can't reach everyone, but with psychologically tailored strategies, we can hopefully reach enough.

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