A recent study from the University of Idaho has found that those who are skeptical of the medical establishment may be more likely to vaccinate if they live near a disease outbreak. Their results were published in the journal PLOS One late last month.
Florian Justwan, a UI assistant professor of political science who helped lead the study, said the survey reached a little more than 1,000 people in the U.S. and posed two hypothetical scenarios to respondents. In both proposed scenarios, participants were told to imagine they were unvaccinated — the first asked how likely a person would be to get vaccinated if there were not an outbreak in their community and the second asked the same question if there were an outbreak.
“We launched that in January 2017 and it only took a few days until we had 1,000 respondents,” Justwan said. “It’s an online sample that is representative of the U.S. general population on a few different dimensions — age, gender, education, income and census region.”
Justwan said while those who indicated they had a high level of trust in government institutions like the U.S. Centers for Disease Control would get vaccinated regardless, he said the results painted a slightly different picture for those with a low level of trust in such institutions. He said those skeptical of the CDC and organizations like it said they would be more likely to inoculate themselves and their children if there were an outbreak nearby.
According to a release, 61 percent of low-trust respondents who lived within 100 miles of an outbreak were more favorable of vaccinations. That dropped to 39 percent for those within 500 miles of an outbreak and 17 percent for those within 1,000 miles.
“One of the implications of our study is the people that are distrustful of the medical establishment — they wait too long until they get vaccinated, they make that decision based on factors that shouldn’t drive the decision making,” Justwan said. “Another policy implication would be that if we’re taking our findings seriously, creating trust in institutions such as the CDC is probably a good idea.”
Craig Miller, UI assistant professor of biology, said it’s important to educate people that their decision whether or not to vaccinate not only affects them and their family, but the larger community. He said a population can all but eradicate some infectious diseases if a sufficient proportion are inoculated against them. If a large enough proportion of a population is immune to the disease, he said, it’s simply rare for it to be present at all. This is called “herd immunity.”
“If you’re immune-compromised, or if you’re a newborn baby, you will receive the benefit if the community at large vaccinates,” Miller said. “It seems innocuous to say that I have the right to not vaccinate — it seems like that can’t be harming others, if I myself choose not to vaccinate my child ... but the thing is that if you don’t vaccinate, you can act as a host that can pass that disease on.”
Scott Jackson can be reached at (208) 883-4636, or by email to firstname.lastname@example.org.