Quebec study finds vaccine hesitancy, belief in conspiracy theories higher among younger people

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MONTREAL -- While vaccination against COVID-19 has not yet begun for Quebec's youngest, a recent study presented at a Quebec academic science association on Friday suggests many young people may be more reluctant to receive the vaccine than their elders.

On Friday morning, a panel of researchers gathered at the annual conference of the ACFAS, a network of Quebec scientists, to discuss the causes of vaccine hesitancy and refusal.

Among them was Olivier Champagne-Poirier, a professor in the Department of Communication at the University of Sherbrooke. He, with his colleague Marie-Eve Carignan, studied the link between a conspiracy worldview, adherence to health rules, and the desire to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.

By isolating Canadian-specific data from a large international survey, the two determined that 23.5 per cent of Canadians show a tendency toward conspiracy-minded thinking.

This is not a marginal number, said Champagne-Poirier.

He said it's a matter worth studying since the literature shows that adherence to a conspiracy worldview is linked, in the context of a health crisis, to a decrease in vaccination plans and to less trust in authorities.

Responses from 2,000 Canadian participants, collected in November 2020, were analyzed.

Respondents were asked whether they disagreed or agreed with statements such as "I believe the virus was intentionally made in a lab," "I believe there is a link between 5G technology and the coronavirus," and "I believe my government is hiding important information surrounding the coronavirus."

The responses were then placed on a conspiracy bias scale. Agreeing with just one of these statements, for example, did not result in a high score on the scale, Champagne-Poirier said.

Rather, it required an accumulation. The method "measures a tendency," he said. It doesn't allow you to say, "this person is a conspiracy theorist, but not that one."

AGE WAS THE CLEAREST DIVIDING LINE

The researchers then wanted to identify the groups in which this tendency is more present.

They did not find much difference between men and women, nor according to the country of birth of the respondents.

And while those with more educational degrees ranked lower on the trend scale than those with fewer degrees, they found that the relationship between the two remained weak.

But one factor stood out: age.

Those under 55 were more likely to score high on the conspiracy bias scale.

And the younger the respondents, the more likely they were to score higher, although the differences between age groups were very slight, Champagne-Poirier said.

According to his analysis, 32 per cent of those with conspiracy tendencies did not want to receive the vaccine, while only 9 per cent of the others did not want it.

"It is in our interest to have a better understanding of this tendency in order to make the right social and health response," the researcher said.

This study was funded by the INRS (Institut national de recherche scientifique) research initiative to better understand the psychosocial impacts of the pandemic.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 7, 2021. 

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