Mistrust of authority factor with vaccination

Prof Terrie Moffitt. Photo: University of Otago
Prof Terrie Moffitt. Photo: University of Otago

A new report emerging from the University of Otago’s Dunedin Multidisciplinary Health and Development Study shows vaccine resistance in adults can result from a legacy of mistrust in childhood.

A special survey of Dunedin Study participants who were vaccine resistant or hesitant was undertaken in mid-2021.

The respondents have been participating in the Dunedin Study for 50 years.

Their responses were matched with information about their upbringing collected from the 1970s through to the 1990s.

Researchers found that many had experienced adverse or traumatic childhoods, including abuse, neglect, threats, and deprivations 40 years ago.

Lead author of the paper and associate director of the Dunedin Study Terrie Moffitt said the findings suggest many adults who resist vaccination learned from a young age to mistrust those in authority.

"They appear to learn in childhood that anyone with authority is just trying to get something and take advantage," Prof Moffitt, who is based at Duke University in North Carolina, said.

She said a deep-seated legacy of mistrust automatically brought up extreme emotions.

The research showed that 13% of those surveyed were resistant to vaccination. At ages 13 and 15, this group believed their health depended on factors beyond their control. At 18, they said they shut down mentally under stress.

Prof Moffitt said that at age 45, before the pandemic, respondents also had less practical everyday health knowledge.

"This suggests they may have lacked the knowledge needed to make health decisions regarding the pandemic," she said.

Prof Moffitt said this novel research could lead to insights into making more effectively convincing pro-vaccination messaging.

Director of the Dunedin Study Richie Poulton said New Zealand’s community-driven approach meant that those offering vaccinations understood people’s values, motives, and preferences, leading to high vaccination rates.

He said the Dunedin Study research offered two major insights.

First, we needed to understand where people were coming from.

"We shouldn’t scorn or belittle vaccine-resistant people.

"We must try to address their deeply-rooted reasons for resistance."

Second, education was paramount.

"An important strategy involves education at a young age about pandemics and the value of vaccinations in protecting the community," he said.

The Dunedin Study began in 1972 and has assessed its members regularly since their birth, providing a wealth of data for researchers in a range of fields worldwide.


Given that there were only 1037 in the study that is a small number to base such claims on.