No, I’m not referring to the ability of pathogens to become resistant to vaccines. Rather, I’m referring to those people who are resistant or hesitant about being vaccinated – particularly regarding covid. Many who understand the wisdom/necessity of taking precautions to limit the spread and harmful outcomes of the current pandemic, take a dim view of those who hold a different view. In fact some comments by otherwise intelligent people indicates that they have little to no sympathy for the unvaxxed, even wishing the unvaxxed succumb to covid as such fools don’t deserve a place in society.
While I have at times felt frustration towards those who fail to understand the benefits of health measures such as vaccinations, masks and social distancing, I do understand that how people think about various aspects of their lives are not usually based on willful ignorance. There’s usually many aspects of one’s background and experience that goes into how we develop the perspectives and attitudes we hold. An obvious example is how I, and most autistics, perceive and think of autism compared to those who are not autistic.
When it comes to resistance and hesitance towards vaccinations, there does appear to be more at play than stupidity. The University of Otago’s Dunedin Multidisciplinary Health & Development Study – an ongoing longitudinal study of children born in the city of Dunedin in 1971-1972 indicates that adverse childhood experiences (ACE) are the most solid indicator of whether or not one is likely to be resistant or hesitant to vaccination.
At the extreme end they may have been sexually abused, been exposed to extreme violence, or psychological abuse. Others have been neglected, grown up in chaotic environments, left on their own or isolated in school. The study, now 50 years in the making, has shown that victims of ACE end up being slow learners at school, and by their early teens have concluded that their health outcomes are not under their own control.
By their late teens, it is apparent that they dropped out of education early, and have a below average reading ability. They are also suspicious of the motive of others, and tend to misunderstand information when under stress. By the age of 45 they are likely to have a lower socioeconomic status, be less verbally adept, be slow information processors, and have less practical health knowledge.
What perhaps is significant is that victims of ACE see themselves as nonconformists who value personal freedoms over social norms, whose distrust of authority figures runs high. And herein lies a problem. Measures to counter the pandemic, be they mandates or advisories are viewed with suspicion. The time for reasonable dialogue is long gone – by 30 or more years. When study participants were 15 years old, they were asked to complete a checklist of “things you want to know more about if you are going to be a parent”. 73% checked immunisation. That was when the discussion should have taken place.
Let me quote from the findings of the longitudinal study regarding vaccine resistance and hesitancy:
Today‘s Vaccine Hesitant and Resistant individuals are stuck in an uncertain situation where fast-incoming and complex information about vaccines generates extreme negative emotional reactions (and where pro-vaccination messaging must vie against anti-vaccination messaging that amplifies extreme emotions). Unfortunately, these individuals appear to have diminished capacity to process the information on their own. The results here suggest that, to prepare for future pandemics, education about viruses and vaccines before or during secondary schooling could reduce citizens‘ level of uncertainty in a future pandemic, prevent ensuing extreme emotional distress reactions, and provide people with a pre-existing knowledge framework and positive attitudes that enhance receptivity to future health messaging. Moreover, many of the factors in the backgrounds of Vaccine-Hesitant and -Resistant Dunedin participants are factors that could be tackled to improve population health in general, such as childhood adversity, low reading levels, mental health, and health knowledge.Deep-seated psychological histories of COVID-19 vaccine hesitance and resistance (unedited version) – Dunedin Multidisciplinary Health and Development Research Unit, University of Otago, Dunedin, NZ
As always, the Dunedin longitudinal study provides a unique insight into significant aspects of a cohort of individuals born in 1971 & 1972, and the findings pose as many, if not more questions than they answer. With regards to handling future pandemics (and there will be future pandemics), this particular survey points to what needs to be done. What it can’t do is provide leads into how it might be done. Any suggestions?
Sources for this blog post:
Deep-seated psychological histories of COVID-19 vaccine hesitance and resistance (.pdf file)
Covid-19: Vaccine resistance’s roots in negative childhood experiences (RNZ)
Dunedin Study sheds light on New Zealand’s successful vaccination rates (Otago University news)