The Psychology Behind Why Some People Still Don’t Want the COVID-19 Vaccine

Psychology professor David Dunning explains there are many reasons why a significant portion of the U.S. population is still unvaccinated as the delta variant continues to drive a spike in new cases.

As COVID-19 numbers increase yet again here in Michigan, a few striking truths are emerging. The first is that the delta variant is very aggressive and is believed to be behind the vast majority of new cases of COVID-19, the second is that these new cases are not only happening in unvaccinated people, and the third truth is that there are still so many people currently unvaccinated in Michigan and all over the country. A psychology professor weighs in on why, despite the threat posed by delta, so many people are still refusing the vaccine, and what health experts and the vaccinated public can do to try to change that. 

Listen: Psychology professor David Dunning on why so many people are refusing to get the COVID-19 vaccine even with threat of delta variant. 


David Dunning is a psychology professor at the University of Michigan. Dunning points out that the reasons why someone might not want the vaccine are as diverse as the unvaccinated population itself. “They don’t know what it entails, they could be scared of needles, they could be concerned about the speed with which it was developed … and ideology is involved at times as well,” explains Dunning. When looking at the implications of historical distrust in the medical community, Dunning notes that it’s important to remember this legacy for non-white communities. “If you aren’t white, you know a history that may make you weary about what the medical sector may be telling you to do,” he says. 

As far as how to convince people to get the vaccine, Dunning suggests a variety of approaches and notes the importance of coming at the topic with authenticity and care. “It’s about whether or not that person trusts the person talking to them about the vaccine. It’s not the information … it’s about what’s going on for that person in their life. Can you find out what they care about? Like their family for instance,” says Dunning. He adds that sometimes helping someone to think through the process of getting vaccination can be very helpful. “Talk to someone who is vaccine hesitant about making a plan to get the vaccine … if you want to be pushy you can even ask them for a commitment … for example, asking someone, ‘will you do this for me?'”

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