Defiance and low trust in medical doctors related to vaccine skepticism

August 23, 2020

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Defiance and low trust in medical doctors related to vaccine skepticism

The results of a study conducted by an international team of  scientists show that people who tend to react negatively to rules and recommendations have lower trust in medical doctors and a more negative attitude towards vaccines, and tend to reject vaccines for themselves or their children.

What the researchers say: “The vaccine recommendations given by authorities or the social pressure in society to get vaccinated may cause defiance in people who tend to react negatively when they feel that they are forced to do something or that someone is trying to persuade them,” said the lead researcher. And because of the defiance, people may act contrary to what is expected of them, or in their own interests.

“Defiance can lead to skepticism towards medical doctors and negative attitudes towards vaccines, or even vaccine refusal,” she said.

The study also showed that defiance and low trust in doctors are related to a higher likelihood to use complementary and alternative medicine (CAM). CAM refers to treatments and substances that are not included in evidence-based medicine, meaning treatments and substances for which the efficacy has not been clearly demonstrated through established scientific methods.

In the study, 770 parents of young children were presented with a list of CAM products, from which they were asked to select the ones they had used during the past 12 months to treat an illness or to maintain good health. Almost 40 per cent of the parents reported using one or more CAM products.

“To use complementary and alternative medicine may be a way for people to feel like they are free to make decisions in matters that concern their own health,” noted the researchers.

Half of the parents reported that they had taken the flu vaccine during the preceding season. Approximately 75 per cent of the parents had accepted the childhood vaccines for their children without hesitation, but approximately seven per cent had refused to allow their child to be vaccinated at least once.

So, what? For a vaccine to be societally effective, some 80% of people must be inoculated. Vaccines create what is called “herd immunity.” A recent survey indicated that 50% of people in the US would refuse a COVID shot and 37% of Brits felt the same.

That does not bode well for the elimination of the disease, or for the health of the community in general.

Some of this is due to a creeping distrust of science and some is due to right-wing conspiracy mongering. A lot of the problem lies in our falling trust in all areas of life—in corporations, in politicians, in the  professions, in leaders of all kinds and, most dangerously in perceived out-groups such as Jews, Blacks, Migrants and religious minorities in general.

We are losing the willingness to discover what we have in common. This makes us unable to collectively face any of the five great existential challenges that we as a species face: climate change, human genetic engineering, unrestricted AI and inequality.

If our lack of trust in medicine and science means that we can’t even agree on something so basic as a routine vaccination, then there is little hope for us countering the larger, more species-threatening issues.

Dr Bob Murray

Bob Murray, MBA, PhD (Clinical Psychology), is an internationally recognised expert in strategy, leadership, influencing, human motivation and behavioural change.

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