By William Benson, Psy.D. | Staff Psychologist
We’re all sick of COVID and want life to get closer to normal. But many of us may be skeptical or nervous about the vaccine. You may be getting a lot of information and not sure what to trust. You may also be worried about unknown side-effects in the short term or the long term. How can I, as a psychologist, help?
First, let me be I’m not an immunologist, a virologist, or a vaccine expert. Nor am I physician. You should consult with your medical doctor regarding your personal decision about getting the COVID-19 vaccine.
What I can do is give you some insights from psychology that may help you as you weigh the pros and cons. The first psychological phenomenon that may useful to know is called the status quo bias. Simply stated, given two options, people have a bias toward one that represents the status quo as opposed to something new. When it comes to vaccines, we tend to be nervous about the risk of side-effects, which may lead us to do nothing (in other words, stick with the status quo). However, in the case of COVID-19, there are HUGE risks in the status quo. If we do nothing, we remain at risk for contracting COVID-19 and becoming seriously ill and/or spreading COVID to others in our families or communities. Furthermore, there are many unknown long-term risks associated with contracting COVID-19. So, as you consider the risks associated with getting vaccinated, consider as well the risks associated with not getting vaccinated.
The second phenomenon I’ll mention makes people more likely to believe conspiracy theories, such as those that have spread about vaccines. That is the desire people have for things to make sense. We all want the world to be simple, for all the puzzle pieces to fit into place. Some personality characteristics, as well as temporary factors, such as states of high stress, increase attraction to this kind of order and symmetry. Conspiracy theories often provide a simple narrative that weaves together disparate, complicated phenomena and neatly tie them together with a bow. The problem is that this world is a messy place, full of seemingly random events. Things very rarely fit together perfectly. And conspiracy theories often rely on thousands of people, for example government officials, drug company employees, contractors, doctors, nurses, and more, all keeping these huge secrets under wraps. While these theories can be appealing, they’re just not feasible.
So if hearing about possible side-effects or conspiracy theories is ratcheting up your anxiety, take a few deep breaths, and consider the other side. There are risks in doing nothing. And the chances of a vast conspiracy involving so many people from all over the world are lower than the chances of you winning the lottery and being struck by lightning this week.
I hope this helps you access your Wise Mind and make the healthcare decisions that are best for you.