The Reluctant Departure

Vaccine Hesitancy in People with Obesity? Yes & No

Getting the COVID-19 vaccine is a no-brainer, right? Especially for people living with obesity. So is vaccine hesitancy a problem for us? It turns out that the answer is not a simple yes or no. Vaccine hesitancy is no more and no less of a problem for people living with obesity than it is for the rest of the population. Right now in the U.S., about 30 percent of adults are hesitating.

Even when the destination is a good one, some people are just not so eager to hop on board.

Survey Research

Global Vaccine Hesitancy, Morning Consult, May 2021

The facts of vaccine hesitancy for COVID-19 have changed since the rollout began. Michael Vallis and Stephen Glazer published survey research in Obesity suggesting that about 40 percent of Canadians living with obesity were expressing vaccine hesitancy. Of course, that survey data was taken in 2020, before a vaccine was even a real option.

Since then, hesitancy has come down. But it has not disappeared. The latest survey research from Morning Consult puts vaccine hesitancy in Canada at 17 percent – among the lowest in the world. Of course Canadians are more sensible than Americans. Some things never change.

Nonetheless, research by Richard Tsai et al tells us that chronic conditions putting a person at risk for complications with COVID don’t really make a difference in hesitancy. Right now this research is published as a pre-print (not peer-reviewed). The data is also available for exploration on the inspire.com website. What you will find there is that obesity doesn’t really make much difference in hesitancy.

What does make a difference is politics. In the Inspire data, people with conservative leanings are 20 percentage points more likely to hesitate than people with liberal leanings. Geography – which correlates with politics – also tells the story. Mississippi has the highest rate of hesitancy. Massachusetts and Hawaii have the lowest.

People Have Their Reasons

Much of the rationale that people give for hesitating with the vaccine is simply discomfort with its newness. Is it safe? Will it hurt me? Can I trust it?

Reasons for Vaccine Hesitancy

This is very human. And the way to overcome it is straightforward. Meet people where they are, listen to their concerns. Offer clear, honest, and consistent answers to their questions. Let the information come from people they trust. And most important, don’t overlook social factors that get in the way of access. Is it in my community, in a setting where I feel safe, in a way that fits with my life?

Vaccine hesitancy is nothing mysterious or especially daunting. It’s just normal human behavior.

Click here for the study by Vallis and Glazer, here for the study by Tsai et al. For more on overcoming vaccine hesitancy, click here.

The Reluctant Departure, painting by William Collins / WikiArt

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June 7, 2021

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