Dialogue between patients and healthcare professionals can be a good way to answer questions and clear up misconceptions for vaccine-hesitant patients. In this dialogue, it can be helpful to understand the underlying reason why a patient might be reluctant to get a vaccine. We call this underlying reason the ‘attitude root’. Attitude roots refer to deep psychological factors, such as a person’s level of trust or distrust, that shape and constrain people’s beliefs and attitudes.
This tool explains some of the most common attitude roots and how they may show up as arguments expressed by a vaccine-hesitant patient. It also identifies some of the most common themes related to each attitude root, so that we can address them.
Understanding the attitude roots of hesitancy also helps us guide our empathy with a patient. Empathy is an important component of communication, and one way in which we can show empathy is by affirming the reasons for a patient’s concerns. For example, we can acknowledge that there have been cases in which governments have shown themselves to be untrustworthy. This tool gives some examples of affirmations for each attitude root. We can use those examples to understand and empathise with how the patient is feeling about vaccination.
Finally, the tool provides refutations for common arguments and misconceptions that a patient may have. These refutations take into account the likely attitude root and try to correct misconceptions while still affirming the patient’s psychological predispositions.
Some people will reject vaccinations based on unwarranted beliefs. For example, the claim that the body has a ‘natural healing potential’ or that ‘natural’ is always better. This may lead people to believe that suffering a ‘natural’ disease in order to achieve subsequent immunity is preferable to being vaccinated, which is the exact opposite of the actual risks.
Many adherents of ‘alternative medicine’ hold unwarranted beliefs and are sceptical of vaccinations.
Research has shown that these unwarranted beliefs are particularly shaped by ‘cognitive variables’, a psychological term which describes the ways in which people process information.
It is these cognitive variables that separate unwarranted beliefs from conspiracist beliefs, which is primarily influenced by perceived threat and emotional variables.
These cognitive variables include: