When the Food and Drug Administration authorized the first COVID-19 vaccine in December 2020, after an arduous year of disease, death and sheltering in place, many celebrated vaccination as a way out of a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic.
Others weren’t as enthusiastic. Some became fearful of a vaccine they thought was rushed or experimental, and they may have heard false statements about vaccines causing infertility, or containing a microchip. Others drew comparisons to a thick history of medical gaslighting and abuse of people who look like them at the hands of the US government. Then there are those who value individual liberty above all else, and view vaccine promotion as an intrusion on personal choice.
The US is no stranger to a vocal antivaccine movement, but the people who’ve chosen not to get a COVID-19 vaccine yet aren’t necessarily “antivax.” In fact, antivaxxers are likely a small number in the much quieter and much larger group who are vaccine hesitant.
“Television and the internet is going to highlight the people who are the most vehemently antivax, but if you take a look at it, a lot of the reasons people aren’t getting vaccinated is that they just don’t know,” says David Dunning, a professor of psychology at the University of Michigan who studies human misbelief.