Political views and a person’s trust in government play a role in whether or not they get vaccinated, according to a study by three faculty members at the University of Idaho.
Bert Baumgaertner, Juliet Carlisle and Florian Justwan, faculty members in the Department of Politics and Philosophy in the College of Letters, Arts and Social Sciences, published their findings based on responses to a 2017 national survey. Their paper, “The Influence of Political Ideology and Trust on Willingness to Vaccinate,” was published in the journal PLOS ONE.
The results suggest a person’s ideology directly impacts who they trust, allowing the person to selectively credit information related to vaccine risks and benefits in ways that reflect their ideology. A person with strong conservative political views is less likely to vaccinate than a person with strong liberal political views, according to the study, as is someone who holds lower levels of trust in government medical experts.
“… Decisions about vaccination are based on more than mere knowledge of risks, costs and benefits,” the authors wrote. “Individual decision making about vaccinating involves many other factors including those related to emotion, culture, religion and socio-political context.”
The study focused on answers to two hypothetical questions related to whooping cough, measles and the flu. Survey respondents were asked to imagine they were missing vaccinations for the three diseases both during and outside of outbreak times.
Baumgaertner, Carlisle and Justwan said their findings suggest awareness campaigns will have limited success when targeting individuals who have limited trust in vaccines to begin with. Public health strategies have long focused on increasing knowledge and awareness based on a “knowledge-deficit” approach to vaccination, but the authors found a person’s ideology has a direct effect on a decision to get a specific shot.
“It’s a question of how do we as a society have coverage against diseases and what role do doctors and government health professionals play in that,” Carlisle said.
The researchers also found that ideology has a strong and statistically significant effect on trust in government medical experts as a whole. However, a person’s political worldview does not seem to influence the extent to which they trust their family’s primary health care provider.
“There is no effect on ideology with respect to trust of the family physician,” Baumgaertner said. “Further research is a good place for us to test how people place trust in the family physician.”
Among other findings, the study found older citizens have slightly more negative views about immunizations than younger respondents while more affluent citizens tended to have more positive views of vaccinations.
The researchers have started on a follow-up study looking at how increased risk of infection, the length a person is sick and chance of death affects that person’s vaccination attitude.