One in five Americans identify as anti-vaxxers, or people who disagree with the use of vaccines, a new study suggests.
Researchers at Texas A&M University found that eight percent of Americans actively identify as an anti-vaxxer, while 14 percent of Americans identify with the beliefs of anti-vaxxers.
Those who self-identify as an anti-vaxxer are more likely to have stronger beliefs in their anti-vaxx attitudes than people who don’t identify with the team but do have some beliefs with it.
The team fears that the sheer amount of anti-vaxxers in America makes public health a challenge, and the fact that many even identify with the mostly stigmatized label is a disturbing discovery.
The data reflects a problem US health officials are currently facing with the rollout of the Covid-19 vaccine, as hesitation about the vaccine could prevent the country from ever achieving herd immunity.
Anti-vaxx sentiments are increasingly common in the US, with one in five Americans having certain anti-vaccine sentiments. Some Americans even identify as anti-vaxx and are unlikely to change their minds about their beliefs
For the study, published in the journal Politics, groups and identities, researchers surveyed 5,010 American adults and asked them a series of questions about vaccines, and finally, whether they are personally an anti-vaxxer or not.
Researchers then used an algorithm to adjust the score for race, gender, income and other factors that could influence the results.
They found that those who identified more strongly with the “anti-vaxx” label not only believed more in the ideology, but were less likely to be reached by health experts to change their mind.
Those who identified as an anti-vaxxer were most likely anti-expert, a Republican, a parent with a child at home, or someone who considered themselves to be in good health.
Women and the elderly were the least likely to be anti-vaxxers.
Many who identify as anti-vaxxers see themselves as part of an in-group, and health officials and others who receive vaccines as part of an out-group.
Attempts to reach out to these people and try to convince them to get vaccines from health officials can actually backfire, as they can become more firm in their beliefs when confronted by the out-group.
“The fact that a significant portion of self-identified anti-vaxxers are embracing the anti-vaccine label as one of their social identities represents a significant roadblock to health communication and efforts to correct vaccine misinformation,” the authors wrote.
“If anti-vaccine beliefs were based solely on the rejection of science, simple health messaging strategies could overcome this rejection to improve vaccine acceptance.
‘However, our results show a very different picture. For significant portions of the anti-vaxx population, opposition to vaccines may be the result of deep-seated social ties and a sense of collective identity with other anti-vaxxers.”
“Changing a core feature of an individual’s underlying social identity is a much more difficult task than overcoming the simple rejection of scientific consensus.”
However, people who are skeptical of vaccines but don’t consider their anti-vaxx attitudes part of their identity can be reached.
“Individuals who don’t see the anti-vaccination movement as central to their sense of self, yet remain skeptical about vaccines, may be easier to get vaccinated,” the researchers continued.
Hesitancy against vaccines has become a concern in America.
Health officials believe that about 80 percent of Americans must be fully vaccinated for the country to achieve herd immunity.
About 60 percent of American adults have been vaccinated and according to data of the Kaiser Family Foundation, 20 percent of American adults will not be vaccinated if they are not required to do so.
Many of these people will be difficult to reach to get vaccinated.
President Joe Biden had previously set a goal of having 70 percent of American adults at least partially vaccinated by July 4.
As demand for the vaccine plummets across the country, so does the likelihood of reaching that goal.