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Unwarranted Beliefs

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:

  • An intuitive cognitive style; accepting ‘gut feeling’ as a better guide to truth than evidence.
  • Ontological confusions; people may struggle to differentiate metaphorical from factual statements, for example taking statements that ‘trees can sense the wind’ or ‘old furniture knows things about the past’ literally.
  • Being receptive to pseudo-profound statements, for example considering a statement such as ‘wholeness quiets infinite phenomena’ to be profound.
  • Susceptibility to causal illusions; believing that one event affects another when in fact there is no causal relationship, for example that your favourite football team won a game because everybody watching it from home was wearing the team jersey.

Vaccinated are a threat

Vaccinated people are less healthy, spread diseases or do not take precautions


Science denial

Lack of consensus on the benefits and theories of vaccination



Vaccines overload the immune system. People are getting too many vaccines too soon


Natural is best

Natural and holistic approaches, mainly those based on body’s natural immunity, are better


Fallacious logic

Reversed burden of proof and misuse of statistics for causal inferences


Disease disappears by itself

The disease will disappear on its own, following a natural cycle


Alternatives to vaccination

Good lifestyles, hygiene and personal responsibility are preferable to vaccines


Alternative medicine

Traditional and natural remedies have a similar record of healing and no side effects


Absurd causality

Implausible side effects and contaminants (e.g., autism or active viruses)