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Health & Wellness

SMU Professor Suggests Ways To Counter Public Resistance To COVID-19 Vaccines

A hand wrapped in rubber gloves holds a disposable syringe of vaccine for injection in a needle.
AP
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BIONTECH biotechnology company.
Pfizer and BioNTech Announce Successful First Interim Analysis of their COVID-19 Vaccine Candidate in a Phase 3 Trial

Healthcare workers and vulnerable populations will be first to receive the COVID-19 vaccines allotted to Texas. But polls suggest getting some other people to get vaccinated may be a major hurdle.

KERA’s Sam Baker talked about how to get past this with SMU associate psychology professor Dr. Austin Baldwin, who researches health behavior.

INTERVIEW HIGHLIGHTS

Why Some Are Reluctant To Get The COVID-19 Vaccine:

One of the things that we know when individuals make decisions about things like vaccines, it's driven in large part by just their perceptions of the threat.

Given the newness of them, and the accelerated pace with which they were developed, I think one of the big challenges will be people perceiving it as being safe and effective and understanding the side effects. We were seeing data out of these trials from Pfizer and Moderna, that there are side effects — soreness of the arm, some cases of acute fatigue that lasts for about a day or so. They're wondering is this safe, what's it going to do to me?

And there's growing hesitancy about vaccines generally, sort of that may play into some hesitation or reluctance to get this back to you.

How You Might Convince People To Accept The Vaccine

Some of the work that colleagues and I have done looks at novel ways of getting people to generate their own reasons for getting vaccines or their own reasons for engaging in behaviors.

Just directly communicating about it oftentimes can create a bit of defensiveness, right? People sort of put up their guard a little bit. When someone says you should do this, that comes in the form of a mandate.

Posing questions to people such as “What are the benefits of getting the vaccine?” or “If you don't and you later contracted COVID, to what extent might you regret that decision?” essentially turns people into more active participants and they think about that information more. And those questions lead to people generating their own reasons or motives for getting the vaccine.

Do People Ever Make Health Decisions With The Greater Good In Mind?

Can be, particularly when that becomes perceived as normative, lots of people are doing this. I think communicating that type of information will be important, helping people to see the number of people who are doing this. And when you pair that with sort of an appeal to sort of the greater good of doing your part, then that can have more traction.

But it may not matter because there are self-interested motives in that herd immunity as well. It isn't like, “Well, my life's not affected.” I'm going to have direct benefit as well. I think that probably needs to be a part of what's communicated because it is a direct benefit even to the individual that a sufficient number of people get vaccinated.

RESOURCES:

Vaccine Safety: Overview, History, and How the Safety Process Works

Exploring the Reasons Behind Parental Refusal of Vaccines

Different COVID-19 Vaccines

Frequently Asked Questions about COVID-19 Vaccination

Interview highlights were lightly edited for clarity.

Got a tip? Email Sam Baker at sbaker@kera.org. You can follow Sam on Twitter @srbkera.

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