Anxious About Getting a COVID Vaccine? You Take Bigger Risks Every Day

The psychology behind skepticism and worries about COVID vaccination.

Posted Feb 20, 2021

Key Points:

  • Like any other vaccine or drug, COVID vaccines can have side effects, but they are minor compared to the risk of serious illness or death from COVID infection.
  • Everyday activities such as driving carry higher inherent risks than getting a COVID vaccine. 
  • Psychologically, people may worry about the vaccine because of a fear of the unknown, a commitment to existing beliefs, and the challenge of staying well informed. 

I was inspired to write this post because so many of my friends – many of whom are highly educated – are telling me that they aren’t going to get the COVID-19 vaccination. What are their reasons?

“The vaccine was not FULLY approved by FDA, only ‘emergency approval.’”

“There are no long-term follow-up studies of vaccine side effects.”

“Given my young age, it’s probably better to get COVID than to risk the vaccine.”

Then, there are the little more “out there” explanations/rationalizations:

“It’s a plot by Big Pharma, Bill Gates, etc. to control us.”

“It’s got bad stuff in it like aborted fetuses…”

“It will alter my DNA!”

The Facts About Vaccine Worries

Let’s deal with the more extreme beliefs first.

Yes, big pharmaceutical companies obviously do what they do because there is profit in it, but the idea of a conspiracy is simply outlandish. There is a real pandemic going on and armies of scientists were motivated to find a vaccine as soon as the virus was identified. It’s what the government agencies and the for-profit drug companies do every time there is a threat of mass disease. It’s done every year to combat the ever-recurring viral influenzas. And, the surprising thing, from my perspective, is that some of my friends and acquaintances who regularly get their flu vaccine are afraid of this one.

What about the ingredients in the COVID vaccine?

It’s pretty simple: the active ingredient is mRNA – the protein that triggers the body’s immune reaction (and it won’t affect your DNA!), some lipids/fats and salts that are the supporting solution for the active ingredient (and, yes some of those are found in human tissue and the placenta – but they didn’t come from there!), and some buffers to maintain the vaccine. (Realize that you can research all of this as I did – going to trusted sources and staying away from conspiracy-laden and “shady” sites.)

Like any vaccine, there can be side effects, including some of the symptoms associated with the disease, and allergic reactions in some people, but they are minor, and fatalities from the vaccine are for all intents and purposes non-existent. This is in direct contrast to the potential for serious illness and death from having a COVID-19 infection.

Every vaccine, and every drug, has potential side effects. But if you look at the cost-benefit ratio of the COVID vaccine in comparison to other vaccines and common drugs for preventing illness and death, the COVID-19 vaccine is quite remarkable.

For example, early studies suggest the COVID vaccine is far more effective (well over 90% effective) than the annual flu vaccines (40-60% effective), or vaccines for pneumonia, as well as other common drug treatments. For example, an aspirin a day to prevent heart attacks is less than 1% effective in preventing fatal heart attacks, but we still do it because 1% of a large population is a lot of fatalities.

What about the “emergency approval” of the vaccine and the lack of studies of long-term effects of the vaccine?

Typically, full FDA vaccine approval takes years. We don’t have years, so emergency approval was given because the feds knew it would save lives. Again, the benefits vs. the costs. And, unfortunately, we aren’t going to have long-term follow-up studies of this new vaccine for years, and then it’s too late.

We take risks every day. When we get in our cars to drive, there is a risk of being injured or killed in an accident, and the odds of that are far greater than the odds of getting a serious injury or dying from the vaccine.

What’s Going on Psychologically for Those Who Are “Against the Vaccine”?

First, it may be fear of the unknown, which is understandable. But, in this case, we have to trust the government agencies, like the FDA and CDC, who are here to protect us from this disease and other threats to our health. To some extent, it’s about faith – the same faith that you have in that doctor who suggested an aspirin a day to prevent the fatal heart attack (by the way, aspirin has side effects).

Second, it may have to do with a commitment to our existing belief systems (avoidance of cognitive dissonance) and rationalization. We have an amazing ability to rationalize away anything that is counter to our existing beliefs.

Third, there is a sort of “cognitive laziness” that keeps people from mustering the energy to search out the best answers and scientific evidence in order to stay well informed, and with the onslaught of bad (and good) information on social media, it takes quite an effort to stay fully informed.

Bottom line: You will take bigger risks in your everyday life than those inherent in the COVID-19 vaccine – so get the vaccine when you can.

Here’s a great resource.