Achieving widespread immunity to infections is a public health challenge, and realistically the only way to control and eradicate viruses under relaxed social distancing measures. At present, the safest way to achieve widespread immunity is vaccinations, requiring a sufficient number of individuals within populations to be vaccinated. Over the last years, however, vaccine hesitancy (a delay in acceptance or refusal of vaccines) has risen across the globe and listed as one of the top ten threats to global health in 2019 by WHO.
The project PIs, Gul Deniz Salali and Mete Sefa Uysal, conducted a survey in May 2020 with over 5000 UK and Turkish participants. The findings from this initial survey showed that hesitancy for COVID-19 vaccination was much higher in Turkey than in the UK (31% vs 14%) and associated with beliefs on the origin of the novel coronavirus. These results left us wanting to know more about the causes of cross-cultural differences in vaccine hesitancy. In January 2021, we obtained a Global Challenges Research Fund from University College London to examine the determinants of vaccine hesitancy across countries, with a special focus on Turkey.
Informed by evolutionary and social psychology theories, our project focuses on the individual and country-level determinants of vaccine hesitancy. We aim to answer the following questions:
- Why are people in some countries more hesitant about vaccinations?
- Do cross-cultural differences in trust in others affect conspiracy beliefs and vaccination decisions?
- Why are people hesitant about getting vaccinated against COVID-19 in Turkey?
- Why do people fear new technologies?
- Do cognitive biases affect vaccination decisions?
- What are the trusted public health information sources?
- Do cognitive biases affect trust in health promotion messages?
We aim to answer these questions through the following actions:
Online survey: We conducted an online survey in Turkey, USA and the UK with over 1500 participants from each of these countries to examine the associations among vaccine hesitancy, out-group mistrust, trust in others, psychological reactance and belief in conspiracies.
Qualitative interviews: To expand on the survey findings, we have conducted qualitative online interviews for an in-depth understanding of vaccine hesitancy in Turkey with 40 participants. These interviews elucidated the lived experiences and views around i) beliefs, attitudes and concerns towards vaccinations in general, and specifically towards a COVID-19 vaccine, ii) information sources for vaccines, and iii) views and trustworthiness of people/organisations who disseminate information regarding vaccinations, iv) views and opinions on official health-promotion and pro-vaccination messages.
Online experiment: We are testing the success of vaccination messages using an online experiment.
We will keep posting our results here
Project Impact: One of the main aims of this project is to co-create public health messaging guidance for Turkey on how to design effective vaccination/health promotion messages. Through this website and social media, we disseminate our findings and write blog posts based on the questions and concerns that our participants raised about vaccinations. We are also organizing a workshop with health workers, academics, project participants and journalists in Turkey to disseminate our findings and co-produce effective public health messages based on those findings.