Bridging the Moral Divide Over Vaccinations

Recent research by Karimi-Malekabadi et al. indicates that vaccine reluctance can be predicted using moral foundations theory (popularized by social psychologist Jonathan Haidt in his bestseller, The Righteous Mind ). The theory proposes five universal foundations of “intuitive ethics”: Care/harm; Fairness/cheating; Loyalty/betrayal; Authority/subversion; and Sanctity/degradation. In counties with high levels of reliance on the moral foundation Sanctity/degradation, researchers found lower rates of vaccination. In counties with high levels of reliance on the moral foundations Loyalty/betrayal and Fairness/cheating, researchers found higher vaccination rates.

The Network Contagion Research Institute successfully replicated that study, finding that moral foundations scores predicted vaccine uptake and reluctance. These findings persist even when controlling for conservatism and other socio-economic and political indicators of reluctance using the Covid-19 Vaccine Coverage Index (CVAC), a tool that captures community-level barriers to Covid-19 vaccine uptake. (Higher CVAC scores are associated with lower vaccination rates.)

Even those who don’t trust the government, pharmaceutical companies, or public health experts, are willing to listen to people they do trust. What makes Walmart a trusted institution? A Walmart representative confirmed that those at Walmart who distribute vaccine information and provide vaccines do not dismiss individuals’ concerns. They do not demean or belittle the unvaccinated. They do not treat them as ignorant, arrogant, selfish, stupid, or crazy. They approach them with concern and compassion, and treat them with dignity and respect. And they don’t just talk; they also listen.

The final study has some really critical findings in it:

The analysis (figure 1) indicated that Trump-voting counties and counties with high population levels of African Americans, as described elsewhere, were key demographic predictors for persistently low vaccination levels. These findings are consistent with other studies of vaccine hesitancy among African Americans.11,12,13 Online behaviors also predicted regional vaccination levels. (This has also been substantiated in academic studies.14,15) Google searches for vaccine availability or vaccination locations predicted.

The positive correlation of Evangelicals is particularly interesting. It shows that there is a large difference between Evangelicals that voted for Trump (lower vaccination rate) and those that did NOT vote for Trump (who might end up with higher vaccination rates than average).

It is notable that the only two negative predictors of vaccination rate are percent voting for Trump and percentage african american.

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