Do vaccine skeptics really believe we “rushed” the vaccines?

Seems like everywhere I look/read lately– from the NYT, to open-ended responses on surveys I’m working on, to class on-line discussions, a very common explanation for vaccine hesitancy is that the vaccines were rushed and we just don’t really know if they are safe or not.  This NYT piece breaks down the unvaccinated and there is no “it was rushed” group, but the closest is the “watchful”

The Watchful are holding out to see what kind of experience their friends or neighbors have with the vaccine before committing themselves. They dominate in Delaware, making up 17 percent of the state’s population, as well as 12 percent in Hawaii and Rhode Island.

Behavioral science researchers know that establishing norms can lead to acceptance of products and could help persuade the Watchful. Encouraging those who are vaccinated to show their vaccination status with pride, both online and offline, can nudge their family, friends and networks to follow suit. The Watchful are already likely to wear masks, showing an intent to comply with social norms, so they may respond to similar altruistic messages about vaccination and get vaccinated to protect others.

For this group, experts should consider allowing for a “vaccinate later” option. Behavioral science suggests that people prefer moderate or “compromise” options over their extreme counterparts. Being able to opt-in to vaccines down the road may provide a comfortable alternative for this group.

So, here’s the thing… I’m somewhat skeptical of these skeptics.  One thing that is pervasive in public opinion research is that people are really bad at introspection.  Ask them who they are going to vote for… sure.  Ask them why they are going to vote for that person and their answer likely bears little relationship to the actual reason.  How many people actually just say “because he’s a Democrat/Republican and I always vote for Democrats/Republicans”?  Or how many of the people who believe the vaccine has 5g chips are actually willing to say that aloud when interviewed?  

My theory?  A substantial number of the people claiming concerns that the vaccine was rushed have no idea whether it was rushed or not.  They readily accept the decisions of government bureaucracies on the safety of the products/medications they use every single day without question. Also, any fair-minded research will find the vaccine was not rushed, it was expedited.  Nobody refuses their FedEx overnight package because it got their so damn fast.  My guess is that a lot of people have a vague, inchoate concern about the vaccine for any variety of reasons, but people have also learned that “I’m concerned the vaccine was rushed” has become a perfectly socially acceptable answer (although factually wrong) in a way that “I don’t know, just something feels wrong about it/I’ve just got this hesitancy I cannot quite explain” is not.  I’d actually love to do some research and try and tease this out.  Any, hey, maybe I’m totally wrong, but just thought I’d put this out there.  

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State

One Response to Do vaccine skeptics really believe we “rushed” the vaccines?

  1. itchy says:

    “People have also learned that “I’m concerned the vaccine was rushed” has become a perfectly socially acceptable answer”

    Hadn’t thought about this, but it definitely seems plausible. So responding to the stated problem — arguing how it really wasn’t rushed — would not be an effective counter.

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