Perceived invincibility from the threat of SARS-CoV2 may be undermining efforts globally to reach herd immunity with COVID-19, researchers conclude in analyzing survey responses from more than 200,000 people across 51 countries.
James Leonhardt, PhD, associate professor of marketing at the University of Nevada in Reno, and colleagues write that controlling the disease requires that people be both concerned about taking preventive measures, such as wearing a mask, and be willing to get vaccinated against COVID-19.
Findings were published online yesterday in PLOS ONE.
However, these “prosocial” actions may depend on people’s level of perceived invincibility, their data show. The ties between invincibility and low desire to take prosocial action are particularly prominent in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Canada, where there is greater focus on autonomy and individual freedoms, the researchers say.
Leonhardt told Medscape Medical News that they expected to find, and did find, that high levels of “perceived invincibility” were correlated with low levels of wanting to help prevent the spread of the disease and low levels of vaccination.
What they didn’t expect to find, he said, was that the factor that made the difference in whether those with perceived invincibility were motivated to help prevent COVID-19 in themselves or others was whether they came from a culture of “collectivism,” meaning they believed that their own health was dependent on the health of the community as a whole.
Dr James Leonhardt
He explained the importance of the collectivist mentality: “Even if I think I’m invincible but I’m in a more collectivistic culture, my feelings of invincibility are going to have less of an effect on whether I want to get vaccinated,” he said. So people with the collective mindset who feel invincible may say [that] although they don’t feel at risk themselves, they will go ahead and get the vaccine for the good of the community.
Knowing that collective-culture thinking is correlated with better performance on vaccine prevention may hold clues for changing the public health messages surrounding the vaccine, he said.
How to Frame the Message
So how to promote an all-for-one mindset regarding COVID-19?
Leonhardt said that will be especially difficult in the US, which “is the least collectivistic culture on Earth,” based on their analysis.
He said that — given this new data — a message that might be more persuasive than emphasizing the danger of the disease on an individual basis would be to emphasize that getting vaccinated will help the groups people care about, whether that is family, a school, a city, or a nation, for instance.
At Leonhardt’s university, he pointed out, the sports teams are nicknamed the “Wolf Pack” and the vaccine pitch is “Let’s Vax the Pack