Sociology of those unwilling to vaccinate: Of free riders and Odysseus

IObligations are a matter of course in many countries. An overview in the journal “Vaccine” offers a more detailed international comparison and shows at least one mandatory vaccine for more than a hundred countries even before the start of the Covid 19 pandemic. Sanctions range from fines and imprisonment to the temporary loss of parental custody, for example in Italy. Most of the time, childhood vaccinations are affected, so that many sanctions relate to attending care and educational institutions. The result is usually not only an increase in the vaccination rate, but also increased confidence in the vaccines: In France, the previously widespread vaccination skepticism fell significantly after the number of mandatory vaccinations for children had increased from three to eleven in 2018.

Against the background of such experiences, in retrospect it may have been a mistake to rule out compulsory vaccination against Covid-19 in Germany. But at least for a certain time, this position could not only claim to take the wind out of the sails of the growing protest against a “Corona dictatorship”, but also to make a decision-theoretic argument: If a vaccine is so good that it is protects against disease or even infection, this benefit would motivate enough people to get the injection anyway.

But this thesis, often put forward by economists against the compulsory vaccination, must fail if there are too many who do not believe in the effectiveness and safety of the vaccine – or if the focus is not on the individual benefit but on the collective protective effect. So-called herd immunity is a public good: you benefit even if you have not contributed to it yourself. In such a situation there is no need to be vaccinated. A rational calculation and a little convenience are enough to free yourself.

On the best way to vaccination protection

Using data from the Socio-Economic Panel (SOEP) from 2020, a team of researchers from the German Institute for Economic Research in Berlin and the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology examined whether consent to vaccination was sufficient to make it voluntary – and whether mandatory vaccination was acceptable would come across. The data confirm a willingness to vaccinate, consistent with other surveys and the actual vaccination quota, of around 70 percent and a divided opinion on mandatory vaccination, which at that time around half would have welcomed and the other half rejected.

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