24/01/2021

People that understand statistics are more likely to get the COVID-19 vaccine

People that understand statistics and data are more likely to wear a mask, practice social distancing and get vaccinated to prevent others from getting infected according to new research from Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University (RSM).

Attempts to control the COVID-19 pandemic are closely connected to the interpretation of data and statistics. However there is evidence that statistics are often not well understood which may result in less well informed and potentially inappropriate decision making according to Professor Daniel Metzger and Dr Mikael Paaso from RSM and Dr Vesa Pursiainen from the University of St. Gallen.

According to Professor Daniel Metzger:

“Our research findings suggest that statistical literacy is associated with a better understanding of the threat posed by the virus, as well as with the ability to follow changes in the current situation and to more accurately incorporate new information in the formation of expectations.

“Given the global rise in new COVID-19 cases and the lack of effective medical treatments, current attempts to control the spread of the virus rely on non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPIs), such as social distancing, mandatory facemasks, school closures, large-scale lockdowns of populations, or closing borders. The success of these NPIs often depends greatly on voluntary compliance by the population. Now that vaccines have been successfully developed and approved, it is likely that in most countries vaccination will be voluntary, implying that compliance will still be an important part of bringing down the number of infections.”

These findings suggest that statistical literacy is associated with a better understanding of the threat posed by the virus, as well as with the ability to follow changes in the current situation and to more accurately incorporate new information in the formation of expectations. It also seems that a better understanding of the risk translates into a more acute sense of protecting others from infection. More statistically literate people are more likely to comply with a curfew because they want to avoid infecting more vulnerable people, whereas less statistically literate people are more likely to comply out of fear of punishment. This might be an important observation in the efforts to get a sufficient part of the population to comply with non-pharmaceutical interventions, even when the mortality risk for most people is substantially lower than it is for the elderly and other high-risk groups.

Voluntary vaccinations may become important to contain the virus in the future. The study shows that more statistically literate people generally consider flu vaccinations more important. These people also have a higher level of confidence in science and in healthcare. These results might prove important for the uptake of a potential vaccine, especially one that has been developed with a highly condensed timetable.

Consistent with these ideas, the researchers find that less statistically literate people are less satisfied with communication by the government during the pandemic, as well as with media and science. This underscores the importance of group-specific communication about the pandemic.

The research reveals that more effort is needed from government and health organisations to convey statistical information in an efficient way and to explain reasons for specific governmental measures or recommendations.

The paper is currently available as a working paper ‘The Role of Statistical Literacy in Risk Perceptions and Behavior During the COVID-19 Pandemic’

ENDS/

For more information, a copy of the research paper, or to speak with the researchers, contact Kate Mowbray at BlueSky PR on Kate@bluesky-pr.com or call +44 710022871

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