Reasons for vaccine hesitancy explored during annual X-Boundaries event

X Boundaries photo

The X-Boundaries event tackled the issue of vaccine hesitancy.

Nearly a year since the COVID-19 vaccination rollout began, about 22 percent of Americans ages 12 and older remain unvaccinated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. So what’s keeping them from getting a shot?  

Seven faculty members and a community health official explored the issue of vaccine hesitancy during College of the Pacific’s annual X-Boundaries event held virtually Nov. 3. College of the Pacific Dean Rena Fraden was the moderator.

Each panelist shared mini lectures from the viewpoint of their respective disciplines, then answered questions submitted in advance by students and alumni.

Professor of Psychology Matthew Normand says one issue is there’s no obvious improvement in personal health after someone gets vaccinated.

“They’re relatively healthy, they get vaccinated, and they’re still relatively healthy,” said Normand.

The idea of individualism in America plays a role as well, according to Associate Professor Sarah Mathis.

“(It’s) this idea that we are all experts in our own right, and that we as individuals should be the ones making these decisions, not health experts,” Mathis said.

Mathis says the concern with people doing their own research is that it can result in confirmation bias, where people only read and listen to things that confirm what they already believe.

Professor Paul Orwin with the Department of Biological Sciences said those struggling with the question of who to trust should look at how information is being presented.

“If someone can explain to you why they are asserting something, that is a good reason to believe,” said Orwin, “and if they can’t, that is good reason to doubt.”
Instructor Shahar Sansani says it’s not just about the science.  For some, it’s more about economic disparities.

“People have a harder time making an appointment.  People have a harder time taking time off work,” said Sansani.

Religion and politics are also factors, though Professor of History Jennifer Helgren says the politicization surrounding the vaccines is not new.

“Yes, we have a particularly divided political culture that the pandemic was layered on top of.  Yes, I think it is more partisan than vaccine hesitancy of the past, but vaccine hesitancy and politicization is not new,” said Helgren, referencing events going back to the 1720s.

For Joan Singson, Director of Population Health Management for San Joaquin County, the varied perspectives illustrate the root causes of what she hears on the frontlines, summarized by what she calls the three Cs: confidence, complacency and convenience.

There are some who don’t fully understand the vaccines and their side-effects, others who feel like they’re healthy and don’t need it, and others who just don’t have the time or resources to easily get a shot.  

“Their concerns are very real,” said Singson, “We need to make sure that we’re very understanding and empathetic.”

The X-Boundaries event is put on every year by College of the Pacific to explore current issues from multiple disciplines.

Past symposiums have covered topics such as terrorism, climate change and guaranteed income.