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Why Does Vaccine Hesitancy Exist?

Updated: Mar 15

Vaccine hesitancy is reluctance or refusal to get vaccinated despite the availability of vaccines. It is a complex issue influenced by various factors, including misinformation, lack of trust in healthcare systems, cultural or religious beliefs, fear of side effects and historical issues with vaccines.

According to the US Census Bureau, between January and October 2021, the percentage of US adults who were reluctant to be vaccinated against COVID-19 had substantially declined from 12.9 to 5.9%. However, another study states that the vaccine-resistant group remains almost unchanged — roughly 8.8% of US adults refused to accept COVID-19 vaccines in January 2021, compared to 7.8% in October 2021. 

Vaccine hesitancy and refusal happen because of big-picture factors and processes that work together. One important factor is politics, which affects how people feel about vaccines. Before the pandemic, studies showed that Republicans were less likely to get flu shots compared to Democrats. States with more Republican voters also had fewer teenagers getting vaccines. During COVID-19, researchers found that counties where more people voted Republican were not as good at keeping physical distance. This doesn't mean Republicans are inherently anti-vax by any means, just that a correlation is evident. 

There have been historical incidents of medical malpractice and unethical experimentation that have eroded public trust in the healthcare system and vaccines. Further, as vaccines have successfully reduced the prevalence of certain diseases, some individuals have become complacent about the need for vaccination, underestimating the potential risks of not being immunized. What's more, critics suggest that vaccines could contribute to chronic illnesses or conditions that emerge later in life. However, scientific research and epidemiological studies have consistently shown that there is no credible link between vaccines and long-term health problems. Vaccines are thoroughly studied and monitored for their long-term effects, and the overwhelming evidence supports their safety. 

Vaccines have been one of the most successful public health interventions in history, saving millions of lives and reducing the prevalence of infectious diseases. They have played a significant role in eradicating or controlling many deadly diseases. Vaccine hesitancy poses a significant public health challenge.

When a substantial portion of the population remains unvaccinated, it creates an environment for infectious diseases to spread, leading to outbreaks and potential resurgences of diseases that were once under control. This is especially concerning during pandemics, where achieving high vaccination rates is crucial to control the spread of the disease.

That being said, vaccines have been a subject of intense scrutiny and debate in recent years, with concerns about their potential risks and side effects. Some individuals and groups argue that vaccines may have negative consequences for health and well-being. These concerns often center around several key points. It is vital to approach vaccine hesitancy with empathy and understanding, while also promoting the importance of vaccination to protect individual and public health. Vaccine hesitancy does not necessarily lead to vaccine refusal.

We can use policy to promote vaccine education, access and coverage. This may include measures like mandatory reporting of vaccination rates, which can reassure the public about their health being assessed safely. 

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the individual author.


Elflein, John. “Vaccine hesitancy in the U.S. - Statistics & Facts.” Statista,

“Hesitancy or Resistance? Differential Changes in COVID-19 Vaccination Intention Between Black and White Americans.” NCBI, 22 December 2022,

“Vaccine Hesitancy for COVID-19 | Data | Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.”,

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