Ethical values ​​determine acceptance rates for COVID vaccination in the United States

Although COVID-19 vaccines are safe, effective, and widely available in the United States, many Americans are still reluctant to get vaccinated. In fact, there are stark disparities in coronavirus vaccination rates across the United States: In some counties, nearly the entire population is vaccinated, while in other counties, only a minority of the population is vaccinated. A new study by University of Southern California researchers sheds light on the beliefs behind these subsequent disparities in vaccination rates.

The study, published Wednesday in American psychologist, I found that, in line with what we already know about vaccination behaviour, structural barriers such as access to health care, historical immunization shortages, and political barriers explained why residents of some counties were not vaccinated against COVID-19. Beyond that, researchers have shown that we need to consider the moral values ​​of Americans to understand the stark disparities in COVID-19 vaccination rates.

Nils Carl Reimer, co-author of the study and a postdoctoral researcher at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, said. “Our goal is to ask why these differences in political ideology coincide with differences in vaccination rates. We already know that, especially in the United States, conservatives and liberals advocate different values.

“The aim of our research was to understand how regional differences can help us explain differences in vaccination rates beyond structural barriers, and this is what we have already found. Ethical values ​​help explain these differences, beyond well-known variables of political ideology and structural barriers.”

Fairness, loyalty and purity are the most influential values ​​in determining acceptance of the coronavirus vaccination

The study is based on the theory of moral foundations, which says that there are five basic moral foundations: care, justice, loyalty, authority, and purity. Reliance on data collected from the collective website -; An online platform that collects a set of psychological data -; The researchers estimated the moral values ​​at the governorate level and the governorate level at the governorate level. This data was combined with county-level vaccination rates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the US COVID-19 Vaccine Coverage Index and presidential election data to control for variables not included in the study.

The researchers’ analysis found that ethical concerns about fairness, loyalty, and purity affected district-wide vaccination rates, but not care or authority. Counties with populations that prioritized purity were 0.8 times less likely to be vaccinated. The researchers pointed to previous research showing that “conservatives care more about pollution and things they find disgusting.”

We found that some values ​​traditionally associated with conservatism were associated with lower vaccination rates, the largest of which was the desire for physical and spiritual purity. Adoption of these beliefs is associated with all kinds of opinions such as opposition to non-mainstream sexual practices or immigration.”

Nils Carl Reimer, study co-author and postdoctoral researcher, University of Southern California Dornsiv College of Arts, Arts and Sciences

On the other hand, counties with higher loyalty were 1.14 times more likely to have higher rates of vaccination. Or, if loyalty increases while other values ​​remain the same, the vaccination rate is expected to rise by 3% countywide. Giving a high fairness value was associated with a 2% increase in vaccination rates in similar settings.

To test the model’s accuracy, the researchers compared it to two other models: one that included only structural and demographic predictive variables, and one in which partyism was an additional predictive variable. Both models failed to predict district-level vaccination rates as accurately as the third model, which also included a district-level endorsement of ethical concerns.

Not vaccinating is associated with a higher rating for purity regardless of political party

While the study largely confirmed their hypotheses, the researchers said, some surprising trends emerged. The authors note that loyalty is typically associated with conservative values, which in turn are associated with skepticism about vaccines. However, the study found that loyalty is associated with higher vaccination rates -; But only when controlling for the other four moral foundations.

Co-author Morteza Dehghani, co-author of the psychology and computer science professor at USC Dornsiv, said. “Opponents of vaccination tend not to be highly loyal, but rather highly purity. Among these are disloyal conservatives, as well as liberals who tend to prioritize purity concerns, and likely focus on the physical aspects of purity contamination (bodily It is a temple and should not be polluted”).

“It’s a sentiment you might find on both sides of the aisle,” Reimer added, “and I think that’s the great value of our approach because it gives a more accurate analysis.” Conservatism is a constellation of different beliefs that do not always logically belong together.

Findings could help better target health communications to improve coronavirus vaccination rates

While these new findings support the claim that county-wide ethical values ​​predict COVID-19 vaccination rates, the researchers stressed that policymakers should exercise caution when using these insights. For example, results cannot be extrapolated from the county level for smaller (cities, neighborhoods, individuals) or larger (states) congregations.

The findings provide policy makers and public health communicators with data with which to better reframe public health communications related to the epidemic. Researchers suggest appealing to fears of loyalty by framing vaccination as a patriotic duty to citizens. In areas of high purity, they suggest communications emphasizing the vaccine’s ability to protect against disease contamination to better attract vaccine skeptics.

“I think a lot of people who are skeptical about vaccination might think of it as a foreign chemical being introduced into your body,” Reimer said. “This sounds very intimidating, as something you don’t necessarily want to put in your body, but I think framing it in terms of the natural immune system response may resonate with some skeptics. More importantly, this stuff is just speculation before further experimentation, but the results What we’ve found can point to public health messages that can be tested.”


Journal reference:

Reimer, NK, et al. (2022) Moral values ​​predict COVID-19 vaccination rates at the county level in the United States. American psychologist.