Fear Motivates Vaccinations, New Study Finds

September 17, 2019
Jill Sederstrom
Jill Sederstrom

Jill Sederstrom is a Contributing Editor

Fear, one's faith in the government, and likelihood of exposure are leading factors.

Fear can be a powerful force in determining whether adults are willing to get vaccinated during the threat of a possible outbreak, according to a new study in Heliyon

Researchers studied the public’s attitude about vaccines during the highly publicized outbreak of Ebola in Africa in 2014 to determine which factors impacted the public’s willingness to get a vaccine if a vaccine became available for Ebola. 

They found that fear-along with trust in the government to handle the crisis and the likelihood of exposure-were the leading factors in whether people were willing to get a vaccine.

“Facing a raising number of epidemics that create public health dangers, our findings indicate that vaccine hesitancy is associated with social factors that are independent of the perceived effectiveness of vaccines,” study investigator Kent P. Schwirian, PhD, said in a release announcing the findings. 

To evaluate the public’s attitudes about vaccination, researchers used survey data from a CNN/ORC poll in 2014 conducted over the phone. The findings included responses from 1,018 people across the United States.

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Based on the findings of the poll, about half of those surveyed said they would be willing to get vaccinated if an Ebola vaccine became available. 

Those with what researchers described as a “general fear orientation” who expressed fear not only of being infected but also more generally in terms of their outlook on life, were more willing to consider vaccination than those who didn’t report fears. According to the results of the study, more than 60 percent who reported being somewhat or very scared about events occurring in the United States were more willing to receive a vaccine.

Those people who expressed confidence in the United State’s ability to prevent an Ebola outbreak were also more willing to be vaccinated. 

Finally, even though 80 percent of those surveyed believed an outbreak in the United States was somewhat or highly likely, most believed it would not affect their own local community. Those who did believe an outbreak could occur near them, also reported a higher likelihood of getting vaccinated. 

Although the study centered on the now outdated fears associated with the Ebola outbreak, researchers said the study’s findings still could have important implications for today. 

Gustavo S. Mesch, PhD, another study investigator and professor of sociology and rector at the University in Haifa in Israel, said to appropriately prepare for a health crisis, local hospitals and health care professionals should know what percentage of the population would likely participate in vaccination attempts. 

“Confirming what percentage of the population would opt-in or out of vaccines, and the central role of trust in government, would help public officials plan their responses,” he said in the release. 

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He recommended re-examining the research questions used in the study with more current data. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Ebola outbreak began in West Africa in 2013 when the first case was reported in a small village in Guinea. Two and a half years after that initial case, the outbreak ended with more than 28,600 cases and a total of 11,325 deaths.

Its impact on the United States was much smaller, with just 11 people overall treated in the United States after being exposed overseas.