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Vaccine mandates alienate your target audience

Isabel Williams
Written By
Isabel Williams
Vaccine mandates alienate your target audience
Artwork by Louise Pau

In June 2021, Houston Methodist hospital was flung into the spotlight as the first high-profile institution to require its employees to be vaccinated. 153 employees resigned or were fired after not complying. This was just the beginning of a vaccine mandate tsunami that has spread across the world, from companies like Facebook to McDonald’s.

Vaccine mandates are important for environments with vulnerable individuals and are also successful at keeping kids safe. Mandates have been around in US schools since the 1850s and were shown to be very effective within schools that strongly enforced the mandate during the measles outbreak in the 1960s. But can we copy and paste a solution from the 60s to today?

With Instagram, fake news, and Joe Rogan, the public is processing and responding to information in a new way. And if vaccine mandates are addressing vaccine-hesitant people in particular, is forcing them to be vaccinated going to have unintended and uncontrollable consequences?

Psychological reactance happens when an individual feels their freedoms are being reduced or threatened, and therefore tries to regain them.

How does this interact with vaccine mandates? In Betsch and Böhm’s 2015 study, participants played a disease outbreak simulator with two rounds. In the first round, participants were placed in either a mandatory or voluntary vaccine group, and in the second round, all individuals were placed in the voluntary group. Participants who originally reported having negative vaccine attitudes and were placed in the mandatory vaccination group in the first round were less likely to take the vaccine in the second, voluntary round. To be exact, 38% less likely to take the vaccine compared to those with similar attitudes who were in the voluntary group in the first round.

In another study from 2021, researchers found that this reactance has even greater health implications than just the COVID vaccine. Participants in mandatory COVID vaccine groups were less likely to report wanting the chickenpox vaccine and less likely to comply with COVID safety measures, such as masks and social distancing.

The risk of vaccine mandates backfiring is high, especially when proper health education isn’t at the forefront. Companies that aren’t working with vulnerable members of society should exhaust all other efforts before turning to vaccine mandates. Less than a week after Ohio offered incentives to their citizens with a million-dollar lottery for 5 winners, the vaccination rate jumped by 28%. These benefits aren’t culture-dependent. When Hong Kong announced their vaccine incentives, like a free apartment, sign-ups doubled in a week. While mandates will make your office halls safer, the world beyond them, which you can’t control, will be more dangerous.