Vaccination is mandatory to fight against and to reduce the risk of COVID-19 disease but there is a lot of confusion among people about getting their vaccination. In some countries vaccination is voluntary and in other countries vaccination is mandatory. Around 36% in the UK and 51% in the US are reported that they are uncertain or unlikely to get their COVID-19 vaccine. Many people across the world are opposed to COVID-19 vaccination so the government pushes for mandatory vaccination policies. But a recent study says that forcing people to get their vaccines can cause a negative impact on voluntary compliance. 

The study’s findings were published in the Journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). The survey included 2,653 German residents during the first and the second waves of the pandemic, analyzing how attitudes modify over time throughout 2020. Vaccination is voluntary for its population in German. Despite infection rates being 15 times higher in Germany in the second wave i.e during October and November, the data showed that opposition to mandatory vaccination had increased from the first wave in April and May. 

The Participants were questioned how likely they were to get vaccinated, whether by the enforcement of the law or voluntary. There was a higher and undiminished level of support for voluntary vaccination. Economist Samuel Bowles from Santa Fe Institute says that forcing vaccination not only increases opposition to vaccination but also can cause social conflict by further alienating citizens from the government or scientific and medical elites. 

The researchers found that some doubts about the effectiveness of vaccines and opposition to personal freedom restrictions were closely linked to one another. The research team also found out that when vaccination is voluntary many people came forward to take them by seeing their family and friends getting vaccinated but when it became mandatory the effect was reduced. The reason is that people who are hesitant or opposed to vaccination see others getting vaccinated and change their minds. Physiologically, it is called ”conformism”- persuading yourself from others’ decisions. If more people are vaccinated then it is possible to get herd immunity without making vaccines mandatory. This effect is the same as the spread of new technologies when TV and washing machines were first introduced. More people got them by seeing others who were enjoying their benefits.  

Katrin Schmelz, behavioral economist and psychologist from the University of Konstanz said mandatory vaccines can affect the public in two ways, it might crowd out pro-vaccine feelings, and reduce the positive effect of conformism. However, Schmelz and Bowles accept that some parts in certain countries need mandatory vaccine rules if vaccination rates are particularly low but they insist that the approach should be used with caution. Schmelz says these findings have broad policy applicability beyond COVID-19.