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Making sense of unfamiliar COVID-19 vaccines: How national origin affects vaccination willingness

That the decision for or especially against CoV vaccination is often not based on rational considerations is evident in itself. However, little research has been done on the concrete cognitive processes that play a role in this. Brady Wagoner, Professor of Psychology at ONH, and colleagues at the Sigmund Freud University Berlin have now been able to demonstrate in an experiment that the national origin of the vaccine offered has an influence on the willingness to vaccinate. 

Publisert i Forskningsaktuelt Tirsdag 1. februar, 2022 - 13:55 | sist oppdatert Mandag 28. februar, 2022 - 17:08

Forskere: Eric A. Jensen, Brady Wagoner, Axel Pfleger, Lisa Herbig, Meike Watzlawik 

As part of the research project, 300 participants from Germany who do not fundamentally reject vaccination were surveyed. They were asked to assess whether their willingness to be vaccinated would increase or decrease with the various vaccines currently available internationally. The subjects were randomly divided into two groups: The experimental group was additionally informed about the national origin of the vaccines presented (e.g. Germany for BioNTech Pfizer). The control group, on the other hand, was not given this information. 

From the actual differences in the results between the groups, it can be concluded that vaccines from countries with a greater socio-cultural proximity (i.e. Europe or the USA) are more likely to increase the willingness to vaccinate than those from countries that are perceived as more unfamiliar and geo-politically distant (i.e. Russia or China). Moreover, making the national origin explicit greatly enhanced this effect. The so-called country-of-origin effect has been known for a long time in product marketing, but the fact that there are apparently comparable phenomena in the perception of medical products has hardly been studied so far.  

This research can go a long way in explaining German’s clear preference for the BioNTech/Pfizer over the Moderna vaccine. German health minister Jan Spahn has had to go the extra mile to promote the US based Moderna vaccine, calling it the ‘Rolls Royce of vaccines’.  In a press conference in late November 2021, he warned that the popularity of the BioNTech/Pfizer vaccine risked deleting stocks, while at the same time 16 million doses of Moderna could expire in the next months if they were not used.

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Making sense of unfamiliar COVID-19 vaccines: How national origin affects vaccination willingness
Jensen EA, Wagoner B, Pfleger A, Herbig L, Watzlawik M (2021) Making sense of unfamiliar COVID-19 vaccines: How national origin affects vaccination willingness. PLOS ONE 16(12): e0261273. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0261273