The willingness to vaccinate increases when vaccination protects others who have low responsibility for not being vaccinated

Abstract

Vaccination provides direct protection for the vaccinating individual and indirect protection for other, unvaccinated individuals via herd immunity. Still, some people do not get vaccinated—either because they cannot (e.g., due to health conditions) or they don’t want to (e.g., due to vaccine hesitancy). We investigate whether non-vaccinators’ level of responsibility for not being vaccinated affects individuals’ motivation to vaccinate and, thus, to indirectly protect non-vaccinators. In Study 1 (N = 101), the intention to vaccinate increased (Cohen’s d = 0.99) when non-vaccinators were described as willing but unable to get vaccinated (low responsibility) compared to when they were able but unwilling to get vaccinated (high responsibility). Study 2 (N = 297) replicated this finding with regard to vaccination behavior in an interactive vaccination (I-Vax) game (OR = 2.38). Additionally, knowing about non-vaccinators’ low responsibility also increased the willingness to vaccinate compared to when there was no information on non-vaccinators’ level of responsibility. Amplified levels of social welfare concerns in the case of non-vaccinators’ low responsibility mediated the latter effect. This finding informs effective communication strategies for improving the vaccination rates.

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Data availability

The data presented in this article are publically available and can be accessed at https://osf.io/b56yh/.

Notes

  1. 1.

    In the preregistration form, ‘intentional non-vaccination’ refers to the high responsibility condition and ‘unintentional non-vaccination’ refers to the low responsibility condition.

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Funding

This work was supported by the German Research Foundation (DFG) under Grants BO 4466/2-1 to RB and BE 3970/8-1 to CB.

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Correspondence to Robert Böhm.

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Robert Böhm, Nicolas W. Meier, Marina Groß, Lars Korn, and Cornelia Betsch declare that they have no conflicts of interest.

Human and animal rights and Informed consent

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the German Psychological Association (Deutsche Gesellschaft für Psychologie) and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards. Informed consent was obtained from all patients for being included in the study.

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Böhm, R., Meier, N.W., Groß, M. et al. The willingness to vaccinate increases when vaccination protects others who have low responsibility for not being vaccinated. J Behav Med 42, 381–391 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10865-018-9985-9

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Keywords

  • Vaccination
  • Prosociality
  • Attribution theory
  • Herd immunity