Barbados – New local research is predicting a worsening of vaccine hesitancy if an end is not quickly brought to “coercion and bullying” of workers.
The study, which was conducted between July and August and authored by Professor of Management and Organisational Behaviour, Dwayne Devonish and Research Associate at the University of the West Indies (UWI) Teixiera Dulal-Arthur, is entitled Perceived COVID-19 Vaccine Pressure: A Newly-Found Mental Health Stressor in Barbados.
The increasing and constant societal demands and pressure on Barbadians to take the COVID-19 vaccine, have the potential to exacerbate their psychological or mental well-being, the researchers revealed against the backdrop of calls in some segments of the country to make the injection mandatory.
This phenomenon of feeling overwhelmed, burdened and strained by constant societal demands to take a vaccine has been labelled by the authors as ‘perceived or internalized COVID vaccine pressure,’ the study found.
Declaring that internalized vaccine pressure is now a new mental health stressor in Barbados, Professor Devonish and Dulal-Arthur said it is very possible that people suffering from this burden or pressure will be less willing to take the vaccine, be more skeptical of its safety and/or efficacy and more distrustful of the national public health efforts to increase its uptake.
Of the 411 people surveyed, 20 per cent of Barbadians in the sample were found to experience moderate to high internalised, psychological or mental stress due to societal pressure on vaccine-taking.
“Hence, this study’s findings are extremely critical for the authorities in government, public health and the private sector in reconsidering and relooking their strategies to ‘coerce’ or ‘pressure’ and even ‘bully’ people into taking a vaccine about which they have deepseated concerns.
“Applying too much pressure can elicit a dangerous backlash in various sectors. For example, this study showed that pressuring employees can lead to higher mental health strain (even if they comply unwillingly to take the vaccine) and this, in turn, is likely to adversely affect their resulting morale and productivity in the organisation – so no one wins,” the authors concluded.
They found that even people who have pro-vaccine beliefs are likely to be turned off by the increasing demands and pressure placed on them and others, as a result of this internalised mental health strain.
“Younger respondents (including the 18-24, 25-34 and 35-44 age groups) reported significantly greater ‘internalised COVID-19 vaccine pressure’ than older respondents (in the 55 years and older categories),” according to the first scientific survey of its kind in Barbados and the Caribbean.
All categories of employed respondents (full-time and part-time employees as well as self-employed persons) experienced significantly greater vaccine pressure than retired respondents, said the researchers.
The study discovered that Barbadians employed in the tourism, hospitality and restaurant sector and those employed in the government or public sector reported greater levels of internalised vaccine pressure than unemployed respondents.
The authors of the study said these results were not surprising.
They noted that younger and working people are much more likely to be targets of societal pressure to be vaccinated given that they represent the most economically productive groups in society and are more likely to be active in diverse public-facing roles.
“The higher mental health strain associated with vaccine pressure in this study for younger and employed respondents seems to highlight that these groups were much more psychologically affected by this societal pressure and may have accompanying concerns and anxieties about the vaccine itself,” the survey concluded.
“Therefore, it would be important to identify and understand the underlying reasons for the substantial proportion of the working population of Barbados being psychologically uneasy with taking the COVID-19 vaccine amid increasing societal pressure to do so.
“Government, employers in the private sector, labour unions and public health authorities should consider alternatives to strategies involving mandates, bullying or coercion,” the university academics recommended.
They contended that these alternatives should consider promoting freedom of choice for the public, building trust, transparency and confidence among people in the country and affording avenues for regular dialogue or consultation between average citizens and their employers, public health officials, and governments on vaccine-related concerns and issues.
The researchers acknowledged that no empirical or scientific study exists locally, regionally or internationally which has explored this phenomenon despite prevailing anecdotes about the negative effects of excessive societal pressure and demands on vaccine taking intentions and behaviours in several populations.
The study is currently under a peer review process at the Mental Health Review Journal, a global publication.