With the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, people were plunged into a situation that required them to acquire information and assess numerous scientific and health issues about a virus they had never heard about before.
Unlike climate change or the safety of nuclear power which became public policy issues over a period of years, and which had primarily longer-term consequences, the coronavirus pandemic emerged quickly and required short-term personal decisions. Citizens were required to rely on prior science learning in school or informally to understand the causes of the pandemic and the consequences of the choices facing them.
An international team led by University of Michigan research scientist Jon Miller found that people who earned a college degree and took the required college science courses gained a general level of biological literacy that enabled them to make more informed decisions about the benefits of a COVID-19 vaccination.
As the fall vaccination season approaches for both COVID-19 boosters and flu vaccinations, these results are important in understanding how citizens make sense of scientific or biomedical issues such as the efficacy and safety of vaccines, Miller said.
Miller and colleagues found that 74% of respondents who had a graduate/professional degree probably or definitely planned to get a COVID-19 vaccination and 54% of those who had completed one to three college science courses planned to probably or definitely get a COVID-19 vaccination. By comparison, just 31% of respondents who did not graduate from high school probably or definitely planned to get a COVID-19 vaccination.
Reflecting the polarized American political system, partisanship and religious beliefs were strong indicators of respondents' intention to get a COVID-19 vaccination. Seventy-six percent of liberal Democrats probably or definitely planned to get a COVID-19 vaccination compared to 48% of conservative Republicans. Forty-three percent of religious fundamentalists probably or definitely planned to take a COVID-19 vaccination compared to 67% of less religious adults.
Prior biological knowledge aided the acquisition and understanding of emerging news about the COVID-19 pandemic and this information was especially important to the 1 in 4 American adults who think of themselves as independents and eschew affiliation with either of the major political parties.
This analysis was published in The FASEB Journal (Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology).
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