The psychology of vaccine acceptance, hesitancy and refusal

Richard Clarke

Tuesday, April 16 2019 at 7:30PM

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38 West Street
PO19 1RP

Tel: 01243 783185

Richard Clarke

What's the talk about?

The reasons why an individual may refuse a vaccine that is backed by extremely strong safety and efficacy evidence are wide ranging and complex. In this talk, Richard Clarke will introduce you to the concept of Vaccine Hesitancy and explain how risk perception, uncertainty, social influence and, above all, trust plays a role in vaccine delay, selection and refusal.

Spoiler: Strangely enough just saying, “Vaccinate your damn kids!” might not be the most effective health communication strategy out there. Who’d have thought it?

Richard Clarke is a health psychologist and final year PhD candidate with The Vaccine Confidence Project ( based at The London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. Richard's area of expertise focuses on the social science related to vaccine delivery.

All are welcome — we look forward to an engaging and informative evening. Entry is £3.

Summary of talk

Richard Clarke gave us an insight into the work of a final year PhD health psychology researcher at The London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

He outlined the various stages of vaccine creation and delivery. Richard's work is concerned with the factors that influence public confidence in a vaccine. 

Richard's talk was divided into three sections: Risk, Information and Trust. He used various graphs and diagrams to describe the historical and current uptake of vaccines. He interspersed these with personal stories, including some emotive photos of a young girl who suffered horribly and died from meningitis.

Importantly, he touched on the same concerns all true Skeptics have: spurious beliefs based on a lack of evidence, poor evidence, conspiracy theories, fake news, fear and other human weaknesses.

Richard's conclusions are that trust is the most important factor in public acceptance of the vaccination programme (he quipped that he could have been talking about any public healthcare intervention such as the wearing of seat belts). If people don't have trust in the healthcare system, they will put it elsewhere, including alternative medicine or conspiracy theories. Part of the solution is to empower local communities by supporting groups that appreciate the science.

After the break, Richard answered a few questions.

How can we change public distrust of experts (when scientists are wrongly equated with economists)? This is a big problem but we can start by supporting local community groups who are aware of the latest science.

What is the minimum percentage vaccination rate to avoid the spread of infectious diseases like measles. Measles is one of the most infectious diseases and is a killer. This is why there is so much emphasis on the MMR vaccine. We need around 95% of the population to be vaccinated in order to contain an infectious outbreak.

Why did you decide to research vaccines? Initially I was planning to research a rare disorder that restricts the ability to recognise faces. Then I met a fellow student who was working on the ebola outbreak and realised I could help more people by conducting social psychological research into public health. I am an advocate of Effective Altruism, which seeks to maximise the effectiveness of charitable action.

Quite coincidentally, Chichester Humanists hosted a speaker from Southampton Effective Altruism group the following week.

Everyone found the talk interesting and informative. Richard will be repeating his talk at other Skeptics venues throughout the country.

If you have any questions about vaccines, Richard will be happy to answer them via Twitter @RichClarkePsy or email