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COVID-19 ISO Insights

New Data Suggests Some Americans May Have Become Desensitized to Covid-19

August 16, 2021

By Travis Decaminada

Key Takeaway: Fear-based messaging campaigns may lose their efficacy relatively quickly, suggests new research from UC Davis. While many people responded to safety messaging during the beginning of the pandemic, since then, fewer people appear to be following recommended safety precautions. Moreover, fear may be an ineffective means to motivate unvaccinated people to get vaccinated.

New research from the University of California Davis suggests that some Americans may have become desensitized to the dangers of Covid-19. More specifically, the research found that while people followed expert advice during the early stages of the pandemic, nowadays, more people are reportedly disregarding safety precautions (Full research article here). This may be important because not only could these findings help fight coronavirus variants such as Delta, Epsilon, and Gamma, but they may also increase society’s resilience against pandemics in general. Per the article:

The researchers examined how COVID-19 news articles shared to Twitter were first met with anxiety-ridden tweets early in the pandemic, during a coinciding spike in instances of panic-buying, extreme social distancing and quarantine measures. Despite the increased death toll, those behaviors then gave way over time to less concerned responses to COVID-19 news, along with increases in societal risk-taking during that time period.

The researchers suggest that over exposure to fear-based messaging may ultimately desensitize people to danger or make “…them less likely to feel anxious over time.” In order to correct for this, researchers suggest exploring means to “re-sensitize” people to danger, and encourage them to continue to take precautionary measures.

Trust in the Vaccine

A related piece published by CNN suggests that, in general, unvaccinated people may be less fearful of Covid-19 than are vaccinated people. According to a poll from Axios/Ipsos, between June and July of 2021 fear of the virus grew from 36% to 44% among vaccinated people. However, unvaccinated people reportedly showed no increase in fear of Covid-19 during that same time period - despite the fact that they are likely the group most vulnerable to the virus.

The article’s author, commenting on the efficacy of fear-based messaging campaigns, adds: “…lack of fear about the virus is probably part of the reason that the unvaccinated haven't gotten a shot. It would also explain why it's difficult to reach much of the unvaccinated through messages about how dangerous the virus is.”

See Also:

Additional Information for People Worried about COVID-19 Vaccination from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Understanding How COVID-19 Vaccines Work from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.


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