Religion shapes vaccine views – but how exactly? Our analysis looks at ideas about God and beliefs

Underlying factors help explain why more people who believe in parareligious phenomena are skeptical
By: The Conversation
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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - July 20, 2023 - PRLog -- By: Christopher P. Scheitle, Bernard DiGregorio, Katie Corcoran, West Virginia University

Many scientists and public health officials were surprised that large swaths of the public were hesitant or outright hostile toward COVID-19 vaccines. "I never saw that coming," Francis Collins, a former director of the National Institutes of Health, commented in 2022. Even today, three years after the start of the pandemic, about 1 in 5 Americans have not received a single dose of any COVID-19 vaccine.

What could be the reason for such widespread vaccine hesitancy? When it comes to skepticism toward vaccines, religion is often cited as an important factor. As sociologists researching the role of religion in vaccine attitudes and behaviors, we have found that the religion-vaccine connection is significant, but much more nuanced than simple stereotypes assume.

Both religious life and vaccine views are complex. A person's religion cannot be boiled down to just one thing. It includes an identity, a place of worship and a variety of beliefs and practices. Each of these components can have its own distinct effect on vaccine attitudes and behaviors.

Attitudes toward vaccines are complicated, as well. Someone's feelings about vaccines in general might differ from their feelings about one specific type of vaccine, for instance.

To help make sense of this complexity, we surveyed a representative sample of 2,000 U.S. adults in May 2021 about their religious identities, beliefs, behaviors and their attitudes toward a number of scientific issues, including vaccines. This sample included individuals across many religious traditions, as well as people who do not affiliate with any religion. However, Christians represented the bulk of the sample, given their larger share of the American population, and so our research focuses heavily on on their views.

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