Limerick research reveals variety of opinions are crucial for ‘fostering trust’ in vaccination

Acceptance of some hesitancy might be crucial for spreading trust in vaccination, according to new UL study

New research from the University of Limerick analysing global vaccine hesitancy has revealed that expressions of doubt are essential for promoting trust in vaccines.

The new study analysing global data from more than 140 countries showed that partially convinced people can help us in spreading trust towards vaccination as part of a ‘human chain of influence’.

The research, which was published in the journal Scientific Reports, uncovered the surprising result that the presence of people expressing some doubts over vaccination is crucial for promoting trust to neutral people.

“Effective vaccines are our first line of defence against infectious diseases and future pandemics but are useless if people cannot be persuaded to use them,” said Dr Dino Carpentras, lead author of the study and a Marie Curie Fellow at University of Limerick.

“How is it that people who have questions about vaccines so easily end up on the side of vaccine sceptics? This is the question we asked in the research.”

The team started from the idea that the more similar two people’s attitudes are, the more they will be able to influence each other. They then used computational models to test how this affects the propagation of trust in society.

“The results of the models are clear,” said Dr Carpentras. “Having enough people expressing minor reservations about vaccination can limit the influence of vaccine sceptics.”

The research reveals that the results depend on thinking of beliefs and attitudes in society as an ecosystem.

“If you have some doubts about vaccination, then who will be most open to discussing them with you?” said Dr Adrian Lüders, a co-author on the study and post-doctoral researcher at UL’s Social Dynamics Lab, Department of Psychology, Centre for Social Issues Research.

“A person with complete trust will struggle to influence a neutral person, as they are too different. However, a partial truster could act as an intermediary between the two, producing a human chain of influence.”

Further analysis confirmed that countries who had a ‘break in the chain’ between the positive and the neutral position toward vaccination performed worse, the research team explained.

The weaker the chain of influence between people with full trust and neutral people, the lower level of vaccine coverage in the following year, and the larger the increase in the number of vaccine sceptics.

The research also provides some direction for future vaccine campaigns. Simulating different strategies, the team has shown that promoting trust without considering the opinion system could produce waves of distrust.

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