I have been trying to understand why many frontline workers are reluctant to take the vaccine. The answer as I see it boils down to a single word:
Trust in government is low for many communities for historically distinct reasons. African American communities have a long history of being misled or exploited by the US government in the name of healthcare - the infamous Tuskegee experiments being the best known example, when Black airmen were told they were going to be studied for six months but were actually studied for forty years. From Wikipedia:
As an incentive for participation in the study, the men were promised free medical care, but were deceived by the PHS, who never informed subjects of their diagnosis and disguised placebos, ineffective methods, and diagnostic procedures as treatment.
So there’s understandable mistrust in the African American community. There are two other forms of mistrust: the anti-vaxxer crowd, which thinks vaccines are fundamentally wrong in principle, i.e., vaccines do more harm than good. I am surprised how many people believe in this - especially in progressive circles - and it’s one instance of suspicion of expert knowledge, but not particularly associated with the right wing.
Then there’s the right-wing paranoia about government that’s tied to conspiracies about the virus being created in a Chinese lab and being deliberately spread by elites or that the virus itself is a hoax. This too is a form of distrust of expert knowledge.
None of these explains why healthcare workers themselves would be so distrustful - presumably they have a better grasp of the facts. One explanation I have heard is that the vaccine has been developed so fast that there are concerns over side-effects. But we don’t have major side effects from the Flu vaccine or other viral vaccines. So why worry about COVID?
It’s a new kind of vaccine, based on mRNA, so there might be an additional layer of worry that an untested type of vaccine is being released for an untested disease.
Altogether, we see four different views of distrust directed at holders of public knowledge, i.e., knowledge that’s ostensibly created and disseminated in the public interest but is viewed as being potentially hostile. Trained skepticism is at the heart of science - we learn not to accept hypotheses without questioning them - but there’s something about public knowledge where skepticism turns into mistrust.
Indeed, it’s the very communities that are normally asked (and submit) to ‘trust us, we are the experts’ that have now turned on the expert communities. But I believe that we are doing the topic injustice if we label all these communities as gullible or stupid. Conspiratorial thinking, paranoia, mistrust are part of our landscape and therefore:
There’s much work to be done here to uncover the emotional landscape of public knowledge