A study published in the journal PNAS Nexus, which was conducted by scientists in New Zealand, found that people who opposed vaccines had a difficult childhood and that these experiences instilled a distrust for authority in them.

The scientist studied members of the long-running Dunedin Study to analyse why some people are extremely against getting vaccinated. The ongoing study follows the lives of 1,037 people born between April 1972 and 1973 at Dunedin's Queen Mary Maternity Hospital.

The study revealed that 13 per cent of these participants had no intention of getting vaccinated. The researchers then analysed the differences between the childhoods of those who were vaccine-resistant to those who were not.

"If your trust is abused as a child, later on, four decades later, you still don't trust. That's not trivial. I'm not going to get around that with a cool campaign or a celebrity endorser," said co-author Stacy Wood.

They found that many members of the study with vaccine-resistant views had histories of "adverse experiences during childhood." These experiences included abuse, maltreatment, deprivation or neglect, or having an alcoholic parent.

"These experiences would have made their childhood unpredictable and contributed to a lifelong legacy of mistrust in authorities, as well as seeding the belief that when the proverbial [sh*t] hits the fan you're on your own," noted the research.

The vaccine-resistant group also showed frequent extreme emotions of fear and anger at the age of 18. They described themselves as non-conformists, valuing personal freedom over following social norms.

"Dating back to adolescence, many had experienced chronic mental health conditions that can foster apathy and avoidance, derail healthy decision-making, and even promote susceptibility to conspiracy theories," scientists wrote in the study.

The scientists have also suggested ways to encourage such people to get vaccinated. They believe that the messaging needs to change if we wish to reach out to anti-vaxxers, writes The Independent.

"To develop persuasive pro-vaccination messaging, it is important to know where people are coming from, especially people who end up resistant or hesitant regarding vaccination," wrote the researchers.

The scientists have called for further such studies to better understand why people are opposed to vaccines and find new ways to engage with anti-vaxxers.

Pfizer BioNtech vaccine
Photo: AFP / Carlos JUNIOR