Modern Australian

Vaccine refusers are health literate and believe they're pro-science. But this just reinforces their view

  • Written by Tomas Rozbroj, Post-doctoral fellow, Monash University

Australians belonging to the vaccine refusal movement consider themselves a science advocacy group, according to a study published today.

My colleagues and I found this group believes it lobbies for unbiased research against increasing industry interference. We also found vaccine refusers construct their identities around developing health literacy, engaging with science and being informed when making decisions about their health.

Other research shows people who refuse vaccines seek to take control of their health decisions. And conversely, they think people who follow public health advice to vaccinate lose out by not educating themselves.

It may be tempting to dismiss these self-perceptions. But that would be to miss the point.

The vaccine refusal movement is a loosely connected community that organises to resist vaccination programs. Not all Australians who refuse vaccines are part of the movement. There is great diversity in the extent to which people refuse vaccines, and in their reasons for doing so.

On average, Australians who refuse vaccines know more about vaccination than do those who fully vaccinate, perhaps because their scepticism prompts them to seek out information. They access both mainstream and alternative vaccine information. People who refuse vaccines are often more likely to have higher health literacy.

Refusing vaccines is risky, and it can be linked to problematic health beliefs and behaviours. But people who refuse vaccines also embody many traits we desire among modern patients, including seeking to be informed, engaged and empowered in their health decision-making.

A person holding a sign including the words no masks, no DNA vaccines Australians who refuse vaccines tend to have higher health literacy than the average citizen. Neil Hall/EPA/AAP

Is more health information better?

Health literacy means having the knowledge and skills to find, understand and use health information.

The public and policy makers often treat health literacy as an antidote to health conspiracy movements like the vaccine-refusal movement.

Pro-vaccine Australians generally think vaccine misinformation is only accepted by people who are too foolish or too health illiterate to know better.

The president of the Australian Medical Association, in response to growing vaccine refusal, called in May for educational resources to help Australians “differentiate the good from the bad and the downright deadly”.

Read more: Why people believe in conspiracy theories – and how to change their minds

Some researchers have called for improving health literacy to fight vaccine refusal, and many vaccine promotion strategies rely on improving knowledge and understanding.

After all, it makes a lot of sense. Increased public health literacy often leads to improved health. Evidence suggests it can correct some beliefs in health misinformation. It’s easy to assume that all Australians would be pro-vaccine, if only they had adequate health literacy and critical thinking

Higher health literacy is unlikely to counter refusers’ beliefs

As far as we know, people who refuse vaccines use their health literacy skills to dive deeper into vaccine information, develop more sophisticated views and greater confidence in those views.

But health literacy doesn’t appear to make pro-vaccine evidence look more convincing to refusers. In fact, when people who distrust vaccination also have higher health literacy, they are even more likely to choose information that matches their biases, and to think that information supports their beliefs. Indeed high health literacy seems to help reinforce anti-vaccination beliefs among people who refuse vaccines.

Read more: Young men are more likely to believe COVID-19 myths. So how do we actually reach them?

Vaccine refusers’ “pro-science, health literate” identity is not benign. In their eyes, it makes them highly credible, which helps them resist public health messages. It also makes them look more credible to others, who may in turn be persuaded to question vaccines.

We need to understand the limitations of health literacy

People who refuse vaccines sometimes hold different health beliefs compared with people who accept vaccination, and lean towards conspiracies (though sometimes they don’t).

But their views are built on mainstream trends. These include trends towards consumer-driven health care, exposure to alternative health paradigms, distrust in “big pharma” and in government.

If people who refuse vaccines can go down health misinformation “rabbit holes” despite having high health literacy, it’s feasible any of us could also be misled by health misinformation.

Read more: Why QAnon is attracting so many followers in Australia — and how it can be countered

We undoubtedly need higher public health literacy in Australia. It has clear and well established benefits. But the vaccine-refusal movement shows we may be placing too much faith in health literacy as a solution for health misinformation. It also shows we need to understand its potential to lead some people to internalise harmful health beliefs.

This understanding is sorely needed amid the COVID-19 “infodemic”, where we are confronted with an overwhelming amount of health information. It’s particularly crucial given the public needs to understand and accept credible information to follow public health directives to slow the spread of the virus.

Authors: Tomas Rozbroj, Post-doctoral fellow, Monash University

Read more https://theconversation.com/vaccine-refusers-are-health-literate-and-believe-theyre-pro-science-but-this-just-reinforces-their-view-144068

NEWS

If we have the guts to give older people a fair go, this is how we fix aged care in Australia

ShutterstockThis article is part of our series on the future of aged care.In the face of the harrowing findings of the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety and...

Trump took a sledgehammer to US-China relations. This won't be an easy fix, even if Biden wins

ROMAN PILIPEY/EPAFew would have thought a US-China relationship marked by relative stability for half a century would be upended in just four years. But US President Donald Trump’s privileged...

This is how universities can lead climate action

Universities are vital hubs of research and teaching on climate change. As large organisations, they also have significant emissions, which contribute to our climate crisis. Universities should therefore lead global...

Fewer flights and a pesticide-free pitch? Here's how Australia's football codes can cut their carbon bootprint

ShutterstockAustralian sport’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic has been remarkable. Major leagues reorganised with impressive speed to keep games going. Schedules dissolved, seasons were compressed and players relocated. And the...

a call for an early-warning protocol for infectious diseases

The World Health Organization (WHO) has come in for its share of criticism for its handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. While some faults are the responsibility of the WHO, others...

life after lockdown will need a novel approach

As second-wave outbreaks of COVID-19 around the world demonstrate, it’s a tricky transition from hard lockdowns to more relaxed, but still effective, measures. The responses of different nations (Sweden and...

Five things to know about the Antichrist

Luca Signorelli's Sermon and Deeds of the Antichrist ( c. 1499 and 1502). Wikimedia CommonsIn the history of the West over the last 2000 years, there has never been a...

New modelling finds investing in childcare and aged care almost pays for itself

Gaukhar Yerk/ShutterstockIn the absence of an official analysis of the impact of the budget by gender the National Foundation for Australian Women has this morning published its own gender analysis...

As holidaymakers arrive, what does COVID-19 mean for rural health services?

At the start of the pandemic, health services in regional cities and small towns braced for a tsunami of cases. Many worried the patient transport system between hospitals would fail...

Robert Dessaix on growing older well — a genial journey through a rich inner world

shutterstockReview: The Time of Our Lives: Growing older well, By Robert Dessaix, Brio BooksHow does one grow old well? Perhaps only by starting to do it early. But who wants...

Why the 2000 Sydney Paralympics were such a success — and forever changed the games

Wikimedia CommonsIn sport, timing can be everything. The 2000 Sydney Paralympic Games, which started 20 years ago this week, came at a time when the Paralympic movement was growing and...

Labour's single-party majority is not a failure of MMP, it is a sign NZ's electoral system is working

Even as the results rolled in on election night there were mutterings that a parliamentary majority controlled by one political party is somehow inconsistent with the spirit of MMP. The...



News Co Media Group

Content & Technology Connecting Global Audiences

More Information - Less Opinion













Popular articles from Modern Australian

NHL's Best and Brightest All You Need To Know About The Hyundai i45 For SaleThe Most Popular Cosmetic Surgery Procedures to Look Out for in 2021Tadalafil vs. Vardenafil: Which Is Better?Benefits of sleep for a healthier life5 Ways Safety and Performance of Your Car Go Hand-in-Hand7 Sporting Events For Australians to Enjoy From The Comfort Of Their Homes This Spring & SummerWeighted Blankets: Do They Work?Thinking of Buying a Boat? 5 of the Best Places for Australian Boating5 Tips For Growing Marijuana Seeds In AustraliaEssential Oils And Foods To Enhance Hair GrowthPlayamo Casino ReviewTot Traveller - A Guide to Taking Your Baby For a WalkUnderstanding the Role of Lawyers During a Divorce6 Stunning Ways to Spruce Up Your House