How to change the minds of people who are COVID-19 anti-vaxxers

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Source: The Conversation.com

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It didn’t take long after the first cases of COVID-19 were reported for conspiracy theories to begin circulating that the virus was a secret ploy by pharmaceutical companies to sell a vaccine. Other false theories quickly emerged, including one suggesting Bill Gates is creating a tracking device to be implanted in a COVID-19 vaccine.

This sentiment has spread quickly. Perhaps unsurprisingly, such theories have bred reluctance to use a future vaccine against COVID-19 and this is a problem that may affect us all.

Just as rapper Kanye West announced that he is running for US president by expressing the anti-vaccine sentiment, a recent YouGov survey found that one in six UK respondents indicated that they “definitely” or “probably would not” get vaccinated if a coronavirus vaccine became available.

A further sixth of respondents to the survey, commissioned as part of a report by the Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH), were unsure what they would do. Worryingly, this means up to a third of UK people could turn down a coronavirus vaccine.

According to epidemiologists, upwards of 70% of the population may need to develop immunity to COVID-19 through vaccinations. This is because being vaccinated not only directly protects you from infection, but it also helps others who may be too vulnerable to be vaccinated themselves.

Once enough of the population has been vaccinated, it is much harder for the virus to spread. This is called “herd immunity”.

The anti-vaccine sentiment now surrounding COVID-19 is not new. The latest UK data indicates that the takeup of childhood vaccinations in 2018-19 declined for the fifth year in a row. Vaccine hesitancy – which is the delay or refusal of vaccines – was highlighted by the World Health Organization as a top ten threat to health in 2019.

The repercussions of this are clear. In England, there have been several spikes in cases of measles and mumps over the last decade, even though these diseases are preventable by the MMR vaccine. This is thought to be linked to false information about the vaccine first published in 1998 that has led to mistrust in its safety.

But there are many reasons why people might reject vaccines. Research has found that people with a fear of needles, low tolerance to perceived impingement of freedoms or belief in conspiracy theories are more likely to have anti-vaccine attitudes.

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