Polarization after COVID-19: unvaccinated face prejudice

Polarization after COVID-19: unvaccinated face prejudice

In a new study, researchers found that people show prejudice and discriminatory attitudes towards individuals not vaccinated against COVID19 across all inhabited continents of the world.

Several of the vaccinated people do not want close relatives to marry an unvaccinated person. They are also inclined to think that the unvaccinated are incompetent as well as untrustworthy, and they generally feel antipathy against them, said the global study from Aarhus University in Denmark. The journal Nature published the findings.

The study  “Discriminatory Attitudes Against the Unvaccinated During a Global Pandemic” showed that prejudice towards the unvaccinated is as high or higher than prejudice directed toward other common and diverse targets of prejudice, including immigrants, drug addicts, and ex-convicts.

“The conflict between those who are vaccinated against COVID-19 and those who are not, threatens societal cohesion as a new socio-political cleavage, and the vaccinated clearly seem to be the ones deepening this rift,” said Alexander Bor, who is the lead author of the study.


The study noted that the reason for these discriminatory attitudes appears to be that the vaccinated perceive the unvaccinated as free riders. The researchers said that when some people help increase vaccine uptake while others do not, it evokes negative sentiments.

“The vaccinated react in quite a natural way against what they perceive as free-riding on a public good. This is a well-known psychological mechanism and thus a completely normal human reaction. Nonetheless, it could have severe consequences for society,” says co-author Michael Bang Petersen, who is a professor of political science at Aarhus University and head of the research project of which this study is part.

”In the short run, prejudice towards the unvaccinated may complicate pandemic management because it leads to mistrust, and we know that mistrust hinders vaccination uptake. In the long run, it may mean that societies leave the pandemic more divided and polarised than they entered it,” says Michael Bang Petersen.


As part of the study, a survey fielded solely in the United States showed that not only do vaccinated people harbour prejudice against the unvaccinated, they also think they should be denied fundamental rights. For instance, the unvaccinated should not be allowed to move into the neighbourhood or express their political views on social media freely, without fear of censorship.


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