Vax attacks: How conspiracy theory belief undermines vaccine support

Book Chapter
Publication date: 
Christina E. Farhart
Ella Douglas-Durham
Kristin Lunz Trujillo
Joseph A. Vitriol
Vax attacks: How conspiracy theory belief undermines vaccine support

As the world continues to respond to the spread of a novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2, which causes the disease commonly known as COVID-19), it has become clear that one of the most effective strategies for curbing the pandemic is the COVID-19 vaccine. However, a major challenge that health organizations face when advocating for the uptake of the COVID-19 vaccine is the spread of related misinformation and conspiracy theories. This study examines factors that influence vaccine hesitancy using two online survey samples, one convenience and one nationally representative, collected in the early summer of 2020 during the height of the second peak of coronavirus cases in the United States. Given extant literature on vaccine hesitancy and conspiracy belief, we expect that three factors—conspiracy theory belief, political identity, and anti-intellectualism—have served to reduce COVID-19 vaccination likelihood. Accordingly, across our two independent samples we find that anti-intellectualism, conspiratorial predispositions, and COVID-19 conspiracy theory belief are the strongest and most consistent predictors of COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy. Notably, we also find that partisanship and political ideology are inconsistently significant predictors of COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy once conspiracy theory beliefs, anti-intellectualism, and control variables are accounted for in the models. When political tendencies are significant, they demonstrate a relatively small substantive association with COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy. We discuss implications for ongoing mass vaccination efforts, continued widespread vaccine hesitancy, and related political attitudes.

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