Vaccine hesitancy rife among privileged, according to research

08 February 2023

CQUniversity research investigating the relationship between vaccine scepticism and the use of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) found that those with higher socioeconomic status (SES) had the lowest rates of vaccination.

The research was conducted by PhD graduate Dr Gabrielle Bryden to explore vaccine hesitancy and how to frame health promotion strategies in order to increase the uptake of evidence-based healthcare.

"The goal of my thesis was to explore unorthodox worldviews that predict vaccine scepticism and use of CAM in order to inform the future development of persuasive strategies to encourage participation in evidence-based interventions' such as the vaccination program'" Dr Bryden explained.

"An important aspect to inform campaigns is what we called the privilege paradox: where geographic areas with highest socio-economic advantage had the lowest rates of vaccination'" she said.

"Strategies will need to be developed to target the well-resourced and well-educated populations' who may consider that questioning vaccine safety is an expression of their personal agency and reflects their intuitive knowledge about what is best for themselves and their children' and a way to achieve optimal health or wellness."

Dr Gabrielle Bryden's PhD began in 2016' well before the COVID-19 pandemic.

"The pandemic has significantly raised the profile of the anti-vaccine movement' especially given protests around mandatory vaccinations'" she said.

One study surveyed more than 2'000 adult Australians to further investigate the relationship between vaccine scepticism and the use of CAM' and whether a person's more general health-related worldview might clarify this relationship.

"My supervisors Professor Matthew Browne and Professor Matthew Rockloff had conducted previous research into the 'psychological and cultural factors underlying the vaccination confidence gap' and they found that vaccination scepticism was predicted by a particular psychological and cultural orientation which often led to a reluctance to engage with the scientific evidence'" she said.

"Our study found that an underlying worldview which embraced magical health beliefs' and to a lesser degree holistic health' predicted scepticism about vaccination or vaccine refusal."

In another study' Dr Bryden examined postcode-based data to examine the relationship between socio-demographic factors and uptake of vaccination among five-year-old children throughout Australia' revealing the privilege paradox.

"We also conducted an online priming experiment' to assess whether priming for contamination (disgust) and purity would produce changes in reactions to a range of health interventions' including vaccination and CAM."

Along with findings from previous research' Dr Bryden said her research provided a glimpse into the unorthodox or alternative worldview of individuals who are vaccine sceptics and people who embrace CAMs.

"The results of these studies into how unorthodox or alternative worldviews predict vaccination scepticism and use of CAM' can directly inform the future development of evidence-based health promotion strategies which encourage the uptake of best practice healthcare' including vaccination practices'" she explained.

"A chief finding is that a person's values and worldview are crucial in their choices of unorthodox healthcare choices' both for vaccination and use of CAM."