It could help overcome the vaccine resistance mindset


Let’s say you’ve been vaccinated against COVID-19, like every eligible person in your family except one. Try as you can, you can’t blame them, provide evidence, or just plead with that person to engage with the rest of your clan. It annoys you that at family gatherings this person (who refuses to wear a mask) continues to pose a risk to everyone, but especially children. This is because this person has young children and still won’t accept what you think is a clear expression of parental love and concern.

At the last family reunion, a big step for an older relative (and held outside despite the bad weather), you tried to reason with this person. It’s not the first time you’ve done it, but it was definitely the most upsetting. This parent starts yelling at you and insulting your attitudes, from political to social. As you objectively try to provide data showing the importance of vaccinations in stemming the pandemic, this person becomes even more furious, sending you back to the figure of some pretty ridiculous statistics, comparing the risk of COVID and homicide for them. young children.

Despite all of this, you have what might be a perverted desire to continue to have a relationship with this person, if only for that reason that you know they will attend future family reunions. You think there must be some kind of intrusion into this person’s belief system, if only you could come up with the right argument. Or, could it be possible that this person is so self-centered and sure of their own mental superiority that this will never happen?

What won’t work to change someone’s mind

The field of research into COVID-19 vaccine reluctance is still in its infancy, given the recent occurrence of the phenomenon. However, anti-vaccine attitudes are more than a 2021 issue. In a 2018 research paper, Matthew Hornsey and colleagues at the University of Queensland noted the increased incidence of some communicable diseases such as measles, mumps and pertussis associated with increased anti-immunization activism. Their study provides an object lesson on how to understand why, in 2021, anti-immunization attitudes took hold in the face of a larger and clearly more deadly global situation.

The Australian authors begin their investigation by immediately dismissing the idea that you can change a person’s attitudes or behavior against the vaccine by providing scientific evidence. While it is “tempting” to “keep repeating the evidence, and do it as clearly and skillfully as possible”, the problem is not that these people lack the evidence or even the education to understand the evidence. In addition, continuing to repeat the risk of not being vaccinated can have a “boomerang” effect and actually increase resistance to the vaccine.

The reason this approach, known as Explanation, doesn’t work, according to Hornsey et al., Is that vaccine-resistant people engage in some form of reasoned reasoning that causes them to selectively interpret the data. and other information. Coming out with tons of statistics is therefore a doomed approach.

You will then need to get to the source of a person’s reasoned reasoning if you have any hope of changing your mind.

4 possible sources of vaccine resistance

The Queensland authors, looking at the body of anti-vaccination research before COVID-19, suggest that the reasoning behind this resistance comes from four sources. As you read each one, see if it applies to a member of your family, or perhaps other members of your social circle who pose this challenge (or, perhaps, to you?).

Conspiracy Beliefs

There is a lot in the news about conspiracy theories, and there is no shortage of them when it comes to COVID-19 vaccines. Defining a conspiracy theory as the world view that “it is common for obscure networks of people with malicious intent to carry out mass hoaxes on the public in near secrecy”, Hornsey et al. stress that these worldviews are strongly linked to mistrust of science.


Even if anti-vaccines try to pretend it’s not a factor, it’s possible they just don’t like needles. They then construct their attitudes in such a way as to receive “permission to avoid the triggers of their disgust.” All this boast about the evils of science could be a cover-up for this admission of what they perceive to be psychological weakness.


Some people just like to stand out from the crowd. When it comes to vaccines, these mavericks want to go against the grain because it is part of their identity. Their “anti-science” beliefs make them someone who “is skeptical of consensus views and intolerant of people who tell them how to think.”

Individualism / Equality

Much of the vaccination efforts in the media focus on the need for everyone to do their part to stop the pandemic and if not for themselves, then for those they love. However, for people who are struggling with the vaccine, it won’t work. According to Hornsey and his colleagues, going beyond nonconformity, the individualistic attitudes of these people lead them to “think that it is better for individuals to make decisions for themselves”, even if others suffer.

Testing the four-source model

Each, many, or perhaps all of these sources may seem to be of value as an explanation of the anti-vaccine people in your life. From the study, you can learn not only to see those who are closest to the brand in your personal life, but also in society at large. The online sample of 5,323 participants was drawn from 24 countries plus Hong Kong. The survey questionnaires were translated into the language of the participant’s country and various demographic data were obtained as potential correlates.

Below are examples of items from each scale:

Conspiracy Beliefs:

Rate these statements on a scale of 1 to 5 (strongly disagree to strongly agree)

  1. A powerful and secretive group known as the New World Order plans to rule the world through an autonomous world government, which would replace sovereign governments.
  2. Princess Diana’s death was not an accident but rather an assassination organized by members of the British royal family, who did not like her.


Rate the degree of disgust you would feel on a scale of 1 to 4 if you were exposed to:

  1. Have blood drawn from your arm
  2. Handling a hypodermic needle
  3. Receive an injection in the arm


Rate yourself on these items from 1 to 5 (strongly disagree to strongly agree):

  1. I get angry when my freedom of choice is restricted.
  2. I resist attempts by others to influence me.
  3. When someone forces me to do something, I want to do the opposite.


The two components of this factor are reflected in the following items which you can rate on a scale of 1 to 6 (strongly disagree-strongly agree):

  1. The government interferes too much in our daily life.
  2. It is a mistake to ask society to help everyone in need.
  3. We have gone too far in advocating for equal rights in this country.

How do the four sources of anti-vaccine attitudes measure up?

The primary outcome of the study was a measure of anti-vaccination beliefs with items such as “Children get more vaccines than is good for them.” The researchers also assessed whether participants were concerned that a vaccine would protect them or their children.

By putting all of these components into a statistical model and combining data from all countries, the individualism / egalitarianism factor added only a small amount to the predictive equation. Political ideology has also served as a strong predictor, with people with more conservative beliefs being less tolerant of vaccines, as seen now with COVID-19.

The strongest predictor of all was conspiratorial beliefs; as the authors note, this finding “helps contextualize why corrective information and demystification of vaccinations tend to be ineffective or counterproductive”.

You can still feel that personality and social attitudes are still important, and perhaps can explain some of the strong anger and outrage that you hear when trying to convince the anti-vaccine people you know. However, Hornsey et al. suggest that, first, you need to move beyond this conspiratorial mindset. Rather than fight it, join it and argue that “vested interests may conspire to mask the benefits of vaccination and exaggerate the dangers.”

Then you can move on to these other two factors. Point out that it is conformist to side with the anti-vaccination movement which itself is under pressure and seeking allegiance. This can work against the reactance factor. By taking off those layers, go to the fear of needles and all that is medical. Now you can ask them if they would rather have an injection or two, or be hospitalized for days or weeks, possibly requiring a ventilator. Reminders of the results of non-vaccination by people who confess on their deathbed to regret their decision may become part of this approach.

The idea that you “tailor the interventions that suit those underlying motivations” is known as Jiu Jitsu approach, as the authors note, meaning you line up with your opponents rather than fighting them. By identifying which of these factors is most important in people you know, go ahead and move in the same direction. This approach, like in real jiu-jitsu, catches the person off guard and can also help lower the temperature of your interactions around this difficult topic.

To summarize, you may feel frustrated, angry, and even defeated after an argument with anti-vaccine people you know. You may believe that nothing will change their minds except to contract the disease themselves. The Australian study may help provide you with clues to a strategy that can help transform the vaccine from resistance to vaccine acceptor.

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