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Which factors influence vaccine hesitancy?

A recent study led by the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) has found that South Carolina residents were more hesitant than Americans in general to receive a Covid-19 vaccine in the autumn of 2020. The two most important factors leading to this situation were low confidence in public health science and low levels of collective responsibility. Better understanding the factors contributing to vaccine hesitancy could help inform public health with targeted and more effective response campaigns. 

By using the MFour Mobile Research Panel – a large, nationwide sample of nearly two million adult smartphone users – the experts surveyed a national sample of 1,450 individuals and compared their attitudes towards Covid vaccines to those of 784 South Carolinians.

“The MFour Mobile Research Panel has several advantages for this type of research due to its large size and widespread coverage of South Carolina and the U.S. and the fact that the panel is constructed to closely match the demographic characteristics of the U.S. population,” said senior author Dean Kilpatrick, a professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at MUSC.

To assess the participants’ degrees of trust in vaccines and their intentions to receive it, the scientists used a multi-item measurement system known as the 5Cs, assessing the following factors:

  • Confidence: participants’ trust in vaccine science and their providers.
  • Complacency: participants’ opinion on the necessity of the vaccine for their health.
  • Constraints: participants’ perception of the affordability and availability of the vaccine.
  • Risk Calculation: participants’ perceived risk of getting Covid.
  • Collective Responsibility: participants’ opinion whether getting the vaccine would also help their wider community.

The analysis revealed that, in the case of South Carolina, both confidence in science and collective responsibility were rather low, leading to increased vaccine hesitancy. Unfortunately, such problems are in fact much more widespread than just in South Carolina, and affect people’s attitudes toward a variety of vaccines.

“Globally, we’re really seeing that vaccine hesitancy is contributing to a rise in cases and mortality from diseases that we thought we had a handle on,” said lead author Caitlin Rancher, a postdoctoral fellow in Clinical Psychology at MUSC. “For example, here, even in the U.S., in 2019, there were several measles outbreaks, where governors were declaring states of emergency.” 

The researchers hope that, by clarifying which factors lead to vaccine hesitancy, scientists and health providers could tailor vaccine and public-education efforts to overcome this problem and make society as a whole better prepared for future outbreaks or pandemics.

The study is published in the Journal of Psychiatric Research.

By Andrei Ionescu, Staff Writer

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