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How will people act after getting vaccinated? The complex psychology of safety?

By lockdown_exit - 28th Mar 2021, 12:00 am - That was the week that was

How will people act after getting vaccinated? The complex psychology of safety?

  • People will be struggling with questions about safety having just been vaccinated, wondering whether to change behaviours and interactions, and how to understand just how protected they are and the others people they encounter are - or aren't.
  • In the coming weeks millions of people will confront myriad nuanced and complex individual choices - which gatherings to attend, with whom, and how certain people need to be that we are indeed safe from spreading or receiving the virus. But the problem is, humans are not very good at gauging risks.
  • Vaccines are essential for stopping COVID-19, but they reduce not wholly eliminate the odds of being infected with the virus. Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are about 85% effective. Those are high numbers, but no guarantees of safety. For every 20 people who received a Pfizer or Moderna shot, one could still become COVID-19 and become seriously ill.
  • COVID-19 and other viruses mutate, sometimes rapidly. As billions of cells in millions of humans replicate the virus, its genetic material constantly changes, perhaps in ways that potentially circumvent our defences and vaccines.
  • Scientists also aren't sure how long vaccine protection lasts yet, and whether vaccinated individuals can get infected and spread COVID-19, even if they themselves don't get sick.
  • Public health officials have long recognised such complex realities about harm and safety. To address them, they've pursued harm reduction strategies. Neurocognitively people assess risks using fast thinking, or gut feelings. This means we don't see dichotomies of safety in terms of shades of grey but in black and white - which is what is needed here.
  • In the months ahead many people will face complex decisions with no easy answers. Though desires to feel safe against COVID-19 run deep, people need to accept, adapt and alter behavious to far more complex realities, like how comfortable they are that everyone at a dinner party or a bar will be fully vaccinated.
  • Health authorities need to urgently work to enhance public understanding of these issues through appropriate public health messaging campaigns. These messages need to convey the complexities of risk: the fact that being vaccinated is not a 100% guarantee of safety.
  • We need to remain careful. Research suggests that until the vast majority of people get vaccinated AND wear masks and social distance when they should, COVID-19 will remain around us in schools, stores and elsewhere.