‘Concerning’ number of Americans identify as anti-vaxxers

Anti-vaccine activists hold signs in front of the Massachusetts State House during a protest in August, 2020. (Credit: Scott Eisen/Getty Images)

A study of more than 1,000 demographically representative participants found that about 22% 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% of this group “always” self-identify this way, with 14% “sometimes” identifying as part of the anti-vaccine movement.

The results appear in the journal Politics, Groups, and Identities.

“We found these results both surprising and concerning,” Callaghan says.

“The fact that 22% 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,” he says.

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: Callie Rainosek for Texas A&M University