Vaccination Motivation

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Volume 17, Number 3

           Vaccine hesitancy is an ongoing issue for the annual influenza vaccine as well as other recommended immunizations for children, adolescents, and adults. At the present time, much public health and media attention is being given to the distribution and administration of the recently developed Covid-19 vaccinations. One topic of discussion is what proportion of the population of the United States is willing to get the vaccination. It is known that vaccination rates in rural areas generally tend to be lower than in urban areas for a range of both required and recommended vaccines.

            Generally there are two reasons why a person may be motivated to get a vaccine. One is the benefit to oneself, and the other is the benefit to others (i.e., a prosocial motivation). The self-benefit motivation tends to be largely driven by one’s perceived susceptibility to and severity of the illness that the vaccine aims to prevent.

            Highlighting the community (prosocial) benefits of vaccinations has been found to lead to higher immunization rates. An article published in PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States) this year reported the results of three studies conducted by two psychologists from the University of Illinois that examined prosocial motives for vaccination. Of particular interest was whether prosocial motives for getting vaccines were affected by population density.

            The authors of the PNAS article found that although prosocial concerns were similar in urban and rural areas, prosocial concerns were more likely to motivate persons to actually get vaccinations in less densely populated areas. There is some interesting social psychology at work here.

Getting a vaccine in an urban area can potentially benefit more people, because the population is more dense. But diffusion of responsibility is greater in urban areas. That is, personal responsibility to help others decreases when more people are present. So in urban areas, persons may feel less responsible to get a vaccine to benefit the community.

In less densely populated communities, the decision to get a vaccine may be of benefit to fewer other people. But, each individual may feel more personally responsible to do their part with vaccines, and individuals may be more likely to actually know the other people who can benefit from one’s choice to get a vaccine. Therefore, highlighting the community benefits of vaccines in rural areas can increase vaccination rates.

            Whether or not one lives in an urban or rural area, it is important to recognize how others benefit from one’s choice to get a vaccine, along with the benefit to oneself. Getting a vaccine contributes to saving lives.

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