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Social identity within the anti-vaccine movement

 

A study of more than 1,000 demographically representative participants found that about 22 percent of Americans self-identify as anti-vaxxers, and tend to embrace the label as a form of social identity.

According to the study by researchers including Texas AM University School of Public Health assistant professor Timothy Callaghan, 8 percent of this group “always” self-identify this way, with 14 percent “sometimes” identifying as part of the anti-vaccine movement. The results were published in the journal Politics, Groups, and Identities.

“We found these results both surprising and concerning,” Callaghan said. “The fact that 22 percent of Americans at least sometimes identify as anti-vaxxers was much higher than expected and demonstrates the scope of the challenge in vaccinating the population against COVID-19 and other vaccine-preventable diseases.”

Researchers also found that participants who scored high on the anti-vaccine identity measure were less trusting of scientific experts and more individualistic. Additionally, study results show that there is increased opposition to childhood vaccine requirements among those who self-identify as anti-vaxxers.

The study serves as a “blueprint” for other researchers to further examine how socially identifying as an anti-vaxxer impacts health policies and public health. Callaghan notes that Americans socially identifying as anti-vaxxers adds another layer of complexity to mitigating the anti-vaccine movement. Changing a core feature of one’s underlying social identity is a difficult task — one that likely cannot be fixed with traditional public health messaging.

Moving forward, Callaghan and other members of the research team hope to investigate how endorsement of the anti-vaccine label varies across the country based on states and levels of rurality, as well as interventions that might reduce individuals’ social attachment to the label.

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