Vax: Maybe the “hesitants” are being completely rational…

Behavioral economics prevail when personal risks outweigh the personal benefits.
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Yesterday, we reported a study by researchers at researchers at Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh concluded that vaccine hesitancy follows a U-shaped curve with the highest hesitancy evident among those least and most educated.

People without  a college degree — mostly Rural Whites and Urban Blacks — are highly hesitant, citing mistrust of government.

But, the highest hesitancy is among those holding a PhD degree.

The primary reason for hesitancy among PhDs: “the data just doesn’t add up.”

Let’s dig a little deeper…

Economist-YouGov released survey results that asked people about their Covid experience and attitudes.

Here are a couple of the questions that caught my eye….

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19. Do you personally know anyone who has tested positive for covid-19?

> 39% did not personally know a close friend or family member who tested positive for Covid.

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20. Do you personally know anyone who has died due to complications from covid-19?

> 67% did not personally know a close friend or family member who had died from Covid.

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My take: Except for people who are undeniably vulnerable (e.g. seniors), those  who haven’t been personally touched by covid’s health consequences are less likely to be vax-inclined. And, many have not been personally touched by covid health consequences.

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32. Which do you think is a greater risk: possibly contracting COVID-19, or possibly having a bad reaction to the COVID-19 vaccine?

> On average, 39% perceive that the risks outweigh the benefits, but…

> Those over 65 perceive the benefits to outweigh the risks — 72% to 28% (a ratio of 2.5 to 1)

> Those who are 45 to 64 perceive the benefits to outweigh the risks — 63% to 37% (a ratio of 1.7 to 1)

> Those 18 to 44 perceive the benefits to outweigh the risks — 53% to 47% (with rounding, a 50-50 proposition)

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So, just based on the perceived risk – benefits numbers, you might expect seniors to be more vax-inclined … and, they are, with a 90% vax rate.

And, you’d expect younger folks to be less vax-inclined … and they are (with vax rates running in the 50s or 60s).

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I think that just about everybody buys into the vaccines’ benefits: 90%+ protection against hospitalization and death.

So, what about the risks?

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30. Among people who have been vaccinated: Have you experienced any negative reactions to the vaccine?

> About 1 in 5 vax recipients report that they experienced “negative reactions” (i.e. side effects) from receiving the vaccine.

> A slightly higher percentage of those 18 to 29  reported a negative reaction … almost 1 in 4

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Those are just the immediate negative vax reactions.

What about the longer term risks?

The CDC — speaking on behalf of “the data” and “the science” — says that there are absolutely no long-term risks of serious complications.

There isn’t data to conclude that there won’t be negative reactions in, say 20 years.

And, while “the science” may conjecture about future health risks being inconsequential … there’s no experiential certainty … and there are plausible arguments to the contrary.

See our summary post: Unexpected things happen when you start fiddling with the innards of living cells.”

So, what?

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For the sake of argument, let’s assume that there is a low but statistically significant risk of future health consequences (i.e. a probability greater than zero).

If so, it logically follows that the longer a person’s remaining expected life span, the higher the probability that they would incur a negative health consequence.

So, an older person (highly vulnerable to severe covid health consequences)  might reasonably conclude that the expected benefits from getting vaccinated (protection from hospitalization and death over a short time horizon) exceed the risks of future related health consequences (over a short expected “natural” life span).

Conversely, a younger person who has low vulnerability to a consequential covid infection may perceive the vax benefits to be minimal compared to the possibility (albeit low) of a severe future health consequence (given their otherwise long expected life span).

Said differently, it’s completely rational for a vulnerable senior to rush to get vaccinated … and, conversely,  quite reasonable for a low-vulnerability young person to wait & see.

That’s how risk-benefits behavioral economics works.

Again, it’s completely rational…

One Response to “Vax: Maybe the “hesitants” are being completely rational…”

  1. Chris Wargo Says:

    That #30 is a crap question, and really enables narrative building. If my mouth was a bit dry, or I had a mild headache for an hour or two, I answer yes to that question. If I am in bed feeling miserable for 3 days, I answer yes. If I am one of the lucky few who developed a serious long-term condition, I answer yes.

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