Evaluating the relationship between moral values and vaccine hesitancy in Great Britain during the COVID-19 pandemic: a cross-sectional survey

Kelly Ann Schmidtke, Laura Kudrna, Angela Noufaily, Nigel Stallard, Magdalena Skrybant, Samantha Russell, Aileen Clarke

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Rational/Objective: Mandating vaccinations can harm public trust, and informational interventions can backfire. An alternative approach could align pro-vaccination messages with the automatic moral values and intuitions that vaccine-hesitant people endorse. The current study evaluates the relationships between six automatic moral intuitions and vaccine hesitancy.

Methods: A cross-sectional survey was designed using Qualtrics (2020) software and conducted online from April 6th to April 13, 2021. A representative sample of 1201 people living in Great Britain took part, of which 954 (514 female) passed the attention check items. Participants responded to items about their automatic moral intuitions, vaccination behaviours or intentions related to COVID-19 vaccines, and general vaccine hesitancy. Regressions (with and without adjustments for age, gender, and ethnicity) were performed assessing the association between endorsement of each automatic intuition and self-reported uptake of COVID-19 vaccines, and between each automatic intuition and general vaccine hesitancy.

Results: People who endorsed the authority foundation and those who more strongly endorsed the liberty foundation tended to be more vaccine hesitant. This pattern generalises across people's self-reported uptake of COVID-19 vaccines and people's hesitancy towards vaccines in general. To a lesser extent people who expressed less need for care and a greater need for sanctity also displayed greater hesitancy towards vaccines in general. The results were consistent across the adjusted and non-adjusted analyses. Age and ethnicity significantly contributed to some models but gender did not.

Conclusion: Four automatic moral intuitions (authority, liberty, care, and sanctity) were significantly associated with vaccine hesitancy. Foundation-aligned messages could be developed to motivate those people who may otherwise refuse vaccines, e.g., messages that strongly promote liberty or that de-emphasize authority voices. This suggestion moves away from mandates and promotes the inclusion of a more diverse range of voices in pro-vaccination campaigns.
Original languageEnglish
Article number115218
Number of pages8
JournalSocial Science & Medicine
Early online date14 Jul 2022
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2022


  • COVID-19
  • Cross-sectional survey
  • Great Britain
  • Messaging
  • Moral foundations theory
  • Vaccine hesitancy


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