Why do many people in principle not trust any vaccinations? How can the public debate of Maria Shukshina and other opponents of vaccination with scientists end? How effective is the information that “fuels” the fear of infection?
The correspondent of “RG” talks about this with Timofei Nestik, Doctor of Psychology from the Institute of Psychology of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Professor of the Russian Academy of Sciences.
Timofei Alexandrovich, today the number of vaccinated in Russia, where the world’s first vaccine has been installed, is about 34 percent. But we have a high level of education. In many countries that do not have their own vaccine at all, and where the level of education is lower, this figure has exceeded 60-70 percent. Different experts put forward a variety of reasons for our lag. What is the opinion of the psychologist?
Timofey Nestik: Indeed, studies show that Russia has one of the lowest rates of readiness to vaccinate in the world. I would not say that in this case we are absolutely exceptional. Even before the pandemic, spikes in anti-vaccination sentiment had become a major problem, for example, for the registration of Europe. Today, a relatively low level of readiness for vaccination in the countries of the Middle East, Africa, as well as in some European countries, such as Italy and Poland. In almost all of these countries, the number of vaccinated people is growing, but so is the vaccination by society. Long-term lockdowns also affect, from which everyone wants to get rid of as soon as possible.
Unfortunately, even before the pandemic, about 30-40 percent of the population was wary of getting vaccinated against any infections.
What’s the picture now? Has the danger changed her?
Timofey Nestik: There are few convinced anti-vaccines, about 10-15 percent. And among those who will not be vaccinated against coronavirus in the coming months, only 40% tried vaccinations before the pandemic. So basically we are not dealing with rejection, but with postponing decisions. According to our data, 65 percent do not trust vaccines in certain areas, believing that they were developed in a hurry.
There are many reasons for this: this is the low level of social insurance, and the idea of COVID-19 as a disease with an unknown nature, consequences that are not yet fully understood, and belief in a conspiracy theory. In addition, more than 70 percent of the city dwellers surveyed believe that people who occupy high positions often talk to each other, but express directly opposite points of view.
As a result, people come to the conclusion that nobody can be trusted – neither an official source, nor bloggers. And here the effect, well known to psychologists, worked: when a person is not sure of the effectiveness of measures, and the media purposefully raise the alarm, psychological defenses are turned on. They are manifested in denial or underestimation of the threat, as well as in the search for conspiracy explanations of what is happening. Since the spring of 2020, the number of people starting to get sick with coronavirus has been steadily decreasing, and after a small spike in the fall, it has dropped again to 30-40 percent by the summer of 2021.
It is important to note that different conspiracy beliefs in one form or another are characteristic of 80 percent of the townspeople we surveyed. Conspiracy studies allow us to regain a sense of control over the situation and self-esteem: “I really know what is really going on.”
The over-optimism developed in the course of our evolution also has an effect. Even when everyone around is sick, it seems to us that this particular misfortune is bypassed. Finally, when we are faced with a new threat for ourselves, we kind of tame it, identifying it with something familiar. Many people think that covid is the same as the flu. Hence, attempts at self-treatment and tragic outcomes.
You are talking about purely psychological factors, but judging by the statements of anti-Axis, everything is simpler. Many are primarily afraid of the side effects of the vaccine. And this is where scientists need to work, to convince them of safety.
Timofey Nestik: Yes, fear of side effects such as blood clots, allergies is the most common reason for not getting vaccinated. Among the inhabitants of Russian cities, about 80 percent of the unintended consequences of vaccination are dangerous, every second believes in myths refuted by science, for example, vaccinations are ineffective against new strains of coronavirus. for kids.
So, maybe it is necessary to arrange a debate on TV between Shukshina and other opponents, supported by the same specialists who can clearly explain the need for vaccination. In front of a multi-million audience, knock out the cards from opponents?
Timofey Nestik: Indeed, this option suggests itself. But it has its drawbacks, which, by the way, draws attention to the WHO in its recommendations. Anti-vaccines, as a rule, act very emotionally, with concrete examples, supporters of vaccination – it is logical, with statistics, scientific terminology. And our perception is so arranged that emotions and simple examples from life are better remembered. There is a boomerang effect when, instead of debunking myths, we can get them growing next.
Well, what do you think psychologists and cards in hand. What recommendations can you give based on the results of your research?
Timofey Nestik: First of all, an agreed position is needed on the need for vaccination. First of all, it is the solidarity of doctors, especially at the level of primary health care personnel in district polyclinics. It is not enough to use the administrative vertical or block social media accounts. By themselves, prohibitions and persecutions only reinforce mistrust. We need to rely on professional scientific, medical and journalistic communities. It is also important to remind the vaccination.
Secondly, it is necessary to talk more about how vaccination is organized: people are worried whether they will get infected while waiting in line for vaccination; whether the presence of contraindications will be checked and whether the doctors giving the injection are qualified enough; will they be helped if something goes wrong, etc.
Third. How and in what form to submit information? It is necessary to take into account the peculiarities of human perception: threats quickly cease to frighten, after the beginning of the next wave they get used to them. In addition, it can enhance the effectiveness of vaccination. Bombing with numbers won’t help either. Instead of intimidation, one should rely on responsibility for loved ones, maintain people’s confidence in their abilities, that they can protect themselves and others. There is no need to underestimate, let alone humiliate, those who are hesitant. Our research shows that they do not differ from advocates of vaccination in terms of educational level and need for knowledge. You need to talk to them as with a friend, with an acquaintance. And here examples work well, telling their stories by specific people.
What examples do you mean?
Timofey Nestik: For example, instead of the phrase “There is an increase in the number of diseases. Get vaccinated, protect yourself and your loved ones!” to give the story of a person who has lost loved ones. But at the same time, positive examples are also needed, which inspire hope in people. And here a variety of options are desirable, designed for different audiences. Famous, authoritative people tell their stories. How and why they were vaccinated, what were the consequences. The stories of ordinary people are no less important. They can talk about their fears, doubts, about how the vaccination itself went.
The results of the study show that when deciding to vaccinate, for some, the weight of the sanctions is more important, for others confirmation – independent sources, for others – whether there will be any benefits and how others will relate to these effectiveness, for the fourth – voluntariness and the availability of a choice of vaccines, for the fifth – are they a way to protect loved ones. You need different incentives, not the same one for everyone.
This is not just about vaccinations. According to our data, they fear the appearance of new strains. But among those who have already been vaccinated, only 59 percent say they adhere to the mask regime, that they will wear a mask after vaccination. It is very important to explain why the QR code does not exempt from compliance with the precautionary rules.
Among the “anti” there are those who are ready to be vaccinated, but only with a foreign vaccine. They don’t believe ours.
Timofey Nestik: Of course, such an opportunity must be given. It should be borne in mind that in large cities people are already accustomed to patient-centered medicine, the massive, impersonal nature of the restriction, exacerbates the feeling of lack of choice, encourages to defend their individuality.
One can hear the opinion that if some vaccine is made in short supply, then the demand for vaccination will increase. But manipulations do not work for long and only trust in the state. People are more complex than we sometimes think of them. Therefore, it is necessary to more often demonstrate trust in citizens, and the choice of effective vaccines should be the widest. And it is important to stop information wars.
In general, we must show that only vaccination will return us to normal life. You can give examples of countries where, despite the large number of infected, they began to remove restrictions. The logic is clear. When we have a lot of vaccinated people, even if we get sick, it will be mild. In short, the coronavirus will become a common occurrence with which to live.
Photo: L. Kuleshov and Y. Medvedev