Social identity within the anti-vaccine movement

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A study of more than 1,000 demographically representative participants found that about 22 percent of Americans self-identify as anti-vaxxers, and tend to embrace the label as a form of social identity.

According to the study by researchers including Texas A&M University School of Public Health assistant professor Timothy Callaghan, 8 percent of this group “always” self-identify this way, with 14 percent “sometimes” identifying as part of the anti-vaccine movement. The results were published in the journal¬†Politics, Groups, and Identities.

“We found these results both surprising and concerning,” Callaghan said. “The fact that 22 percent of Americans at least sometimes identify as anti-vaxxers was much higher than expected and demonstrates the scope of the challenge in vaccinating the population against COVID-19 and other vaccine-preventable diseases.”

Researchers also found that participants who scored high on the anti-vaccine identity measure were less trusting of scientific experts and more individualistic. Additionally, study results show that there is increased opposition to childhood vaccine requirements among those who self-identify as anti-vaxxers.

The study serves as a “blueprint” for other researchers to further examine how socially identifying as an anti-vaxxer impacts health policies and public health. Callaghan notes that Americans socially identifying as anti-vaxxers adds another layer of complexity to mitigating the anti-vaccine movement. Changing a core feature of one’s underlying social identity is a difficult task — one that likely cannot be fixed with traditional public health messaging.

Moving forward, Callaghan and other members of the research team hope to investigate how endorsement of the anti-vaccine label varies across the country based on states and levels of rurality, as well as interventions that might reduce individuals’ social attachment to the label.

Source: Social identity within the anti-vaccine movement



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