Discrimination Based on COVID-19 Vaccination Status

December 8, 2022, Vienna – A study entitled “Discriminatory Attitudes Against the Unvaccinated During a Global Pandemic” published by Nature reveals that people who are vaccinated against COVID-19 show more negative attitudes towards unvaccinated individuals than unvaccinated individuals direct towards vaccinated people. The results of the study are based on an assessment of more than 15,000 people from 21 countries. The authors, Alexander Bor (CEU Democracy Institute), Frederik Jorgensen and Michael Bang Petersen (Aarhus University) conclude that this behavior may hamper pandemic management and leave some societies more divided than they were before the pandemic. 

The deployment of vaccines against SARS-CoV-2 has created divides between individuals who comply with vaccination rollouts, and those who are hesitant and remain unvaccinated. The recent research by Bor, Bang and Petersen suggests that vaccinated individuals may condemn individuals who are unvaccinated for not following the advice of health authorities. Conversely, those who refuse vaccines report that they feel discriminated against and pressured against their will (by strict government policies against unvaccinated individuals, for example).

To investigate the nature and level of prejudice across groups defined by COVID-19 vaccination status, the researchers assessed the attitudes of 15,233 individuals (sampled to be representative of their country) covering a diverse set of cultures across the world. The authors included representative data from low- and middle-income countries, along with those from high-income ones.

The research found that vaccinated people express discriminatory attitudes towards individuals who are unvaccinated at levels as high as or higher than discriminatory attitudes directed towards other common targets of prejudice, such as immigrant populations or people who struggle with drug addiction. On the whole, this prejudice tends to be one-sided; only in the USA and Germany do the authors find that unvaccinated individuals feel some antipathy towards those who are vaccinated, although no statistical evidence of negative stereotyping or exclusionary attitudes towards these latter individuals were observed. Researchers also found evidence in support of discriminatory attitudes against the unvaccinated in all countries except Hungary and Romania and find that discriminatory attitudes are more strongly expressed in cultures with stronger cooperative norms. 

“The observation that vaccinated individuals discriminate against those who are unvaccinated, but that there is no evidence for the reverse, is consistent with work on the psychology of cooperation,” says Alexander Bor from Central European University (CEU). “Indeed, vaccinated individuals in cultures with stronger cooperative norms are shown to react more negatively against those who are unvaccinated,” Bor says.

The authors of the study suggest that authorities should seek to avoid fueling deep animosity between citizens when managing large social crises, such as the COVID-19 pandemic.



Ildikó Rüll

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Communications, Marketing & Outreach Office

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