Vaccine-hesitancy & Global Warming: Distinct Challenges, Similar Solutions?

June 17, 2022

Royal Society: In a co-authored study, DTI COVID Co-PI Simon A. Levin, James S. McDonnell Distinguished University Professor in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Princeton University, draws parallels between public attitudes about vaccines and global warming to suggest how policymakers could approach both.

The study’s three authors write: “Although the COVID-19 vaccine has dramatically changed the fight against the pandemic, many exhibit vaccination-hesitancy. At the same time, continued human-induced emissions of greenhouse gases pose an alarming threat to humanity. Based on the theory of Subjective Expected Relative Similarity (SERS) and a recent international study that drastically modified COVID-19 health-related attitudes, we explain why a similar approach and a corresponding public policy are expected to help resolve both behavioral issues: reduce vaccination hesitancy and motivate climate actions.”

Altogether the study induced a meaningful attitude change, ranging from 36% to 94%, dependent on the specific population and type of practiced intervention, showing that even short, yet thoroughly planned, interventions can induce meaningful changes.

The authors conclude, “Our take-home message addressed to policy makers and public influencers is that presenting the information and asking people to conform is not enough. To get compliance, for both COVID-19 vaccination and for the taking of climate actions, individuals need to be able to correctly comprehend the private and public payoffs structure of the interaction they are involved in. Neither broadcasting the information, nor instructing people to follow, is sufficient to induce comprehension and compliance. Most critically, people need to perceive sufficiently high strategic similarity with other involved parties.”

Read the study here.