Department Seminar: Prejudice Against the Unvaccinated During the COVID-19 Pandemic
Despite early hope that vaccines would quickly end the COVID-19 pandemic, large unvaccinated minorities persist even in countries with high vaccine access. Consequently, vaccination became a controversial subject of public debates and even protests. Here, we ask whether people show prejudice across groups defined by COVID-19 vaccination status. Assessing negative affect, stereotypes and exclusionary attitudes in family and political settings, we quantify prejudice between vaccinated and unvaccinated citizens in 21 countries, representative of 58\% of the world's population. Across three conjoint experimental studies (15,233 respondents), we demonstrate that vaccinated people express prejudice towards the unvaccinated, as high as or higher than the prejudice suffered by common targets like immigrants from the Middle East, drug addicts and ex-convicts. Exclusionary attitudes towards the unvaccinated are stronger in countries that suffered fewer COVID-19 deaths and that have higher social trust. In contrast, we find little evidence that unvaccinated respondents display prejudice towards vaccinated people. While both elites and vaccinated laypeople appealed to moral obligations to increase COVID-19 vaccine uptake, the present findings imply that the antipathy towards free-riders could fuel prejudice including the denial of fundamental rights.