Should we be worried about vaccine deception?

38% of adults said they’d consider lying about their COVID-19 vaccination status in order to work, travel, or avoid conflict.

By: SafeHome.org Research | Published: Jan 25, 2022

Before he took his jersey off and left the field in the middle of a game, former Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Antonio Brown was mired in multiple controversies. Most recently, Brown had been suspended for possessing a forged COVID-19 vaccination card.1 And one of the NFL’s biggest stars, Aaron Rodgers, has been accused of misleading people about his vaccination status, telling reporters that he was “immunized,” then later missing time because of COVID-19.2

It’s probably easy for most people to understand the temptation of lying about being vaccinated when you’re not – if there are millions of dollars on the line. But we wanted to understand how regular people are approaching this issue as the nation debates workplace vaccine mandates and other Covid-related restrictions.

Have they lied about their vaccine status – whether vaccinated or not – and what circumstances would be enough to convince them that they need to hide the truth?

Key findings from our research:

  • Only two percent of people said they have lied about their own vaccine status, but about 22 percent say they know of others who have lied or even have fake proof of vaccination.
  • Thirty-eight percent of people said they’d consider lying about whether they’d been vaccinated against COVID-19. However younger adults were most open to lying: almost half of people between 18 and 24 said they would consider lying about their vaccination status.
  • Overall, unvaccinated people were more likely than vaccinated people to lie or consider lying about their status. Nearly two in three unvaccinated people have avoided the vaccine so far because of fear of side effects or in order to review more long-term safety data.
  • One in five vaccinated people would consider lying in order to avoid conflict with friends or family. Getting or keeping a job was the main reason unvaccinated people would consider lying about their vaccine status.

15 Percent of People Know Someone Who Has Lied About Being Vaccinated

Just two percent of people we talked to said they have lied about whether they’ve been vaccinated against COVID-19, though those who haven’t gotten vaccinated are much more likely to say they’ve misled others about their vaccine status.

Still, while unvaccinated people were five times more likely to say they have lied about getting the shot compared to those who have had at least one dose – the numbers are very small, with only five percent of unvaccinated people saying they’d lied about it.

Current vaccine status Percentage who’ve lied about current vaccine status
Have at least one dose 1%
Unvaccinated 5%
All 2%

We also asked unvaccinated people about the reasons why they are hesitant when it comes to getting the shot. The top reasons were concerns over potential side effects, wanting to see long-term safety studies, and believing that the vaccines aren’t effective. Others said they were holding off on COVID-19 vaccine shots because they did not trust the government or pharmaceutical companies producing them.

Why haven’t you received a COVID-19 vaccine? Select all that apply.
I am afraid of side effects 63%
I want to wait to see long-term safety studies 61%
I don’t believe the vaccines are effective 41%
I don’t trust the government 38%
I don’t trust pharmaceutical companies 34%
I know someone who had a reaction to the vaccine 24%
I already had COVID-19 and believe I don’t need the vaccine 15%
I have a religious reason not to get it 13%
I have a medical reason not to get it 12%
I cannot decide which brand of vaccine to get 4%
None of the above 3%
Other reasons 13%

While few people we talked to say they personally have lied about their vaccine status, a much larger share of them say they know someone who has. Twenty-two percent of people said they know people who have lied about being or not being vaccinated or who have produced a fake vaccine card.

15% knew someone who said they were vaccinated but they’re not
5% knew someone who has a fake or forged vaccine record
2% knew someone who said they were not vaccinated but they actually are

A word of warning for those considering getting their hands on a falsified COVID-19 vaccine card: Because the believable ones use the seal of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, simply possessing one of these fake cards could be a federal crime.3

More Than 1 in 3 Say They Would Lie Under the Right Circumstances

Thankfully, few of the participants in our research have been dishonest about their COVID-19 vaccine status – at least so far. But while few people said they have misled others or outright lied about their vaccine status, a substantial chunk – 38 percent – said they would consider doing so in some situations.

Unvaccinated people are much more likely to say they would consider lying about getting the shot if it came to that, but those folks also have more to lose given the growing restrictions around vaccine status. In fact, more than half of this group said they would consider lying about getting vaccinated, depending on the situation.

Percentage who’d consider lying about their COVID-19 vaccination status
Current vaccine status
Unvaccinated 51%
Have at least one dose 32%
All 38%

Notably, though, even vaccinated people were somewhat likely to say there might be circumstances in which they might conceal the truth – 32 percent of them said lying might be a possibility.

So, what are the right circumstances? One in five vaccinated people said they’d think about lying to keep the peace with others. One in three unvaccinated people would consider lying to get or keep a job. Another 31 percent of unvaccinated people would consider lying in order to enter a business, and 30 percent said they may lie about their vaccine status in order to travel.

Percentage who would consider lying about Covid-19 vaccination status in the following situations
Unvaccinated Have at least one dose
To get a job or keep a job 33% 16%
To enter a business 31% 14%
To travel 30% 11%
To attend a gathering/event/concert 27% 12%
To attend college 23% 11%
To avoid conflict with friends/family 23% 21%
To avoid wearing a mask 23% 8%

Still, while both vaccinated and unvaccinated people have varying reasons for why they might consider lying, those in age groups where vaccine rates are low are much more likely to say they’d consider misleading others about whether or not they’d gotten the shot.

Percentage who’d consider lying about vaccine status, by age group
18-24 47%
25-34 40%
35-44 35%
45-54 31%
55+ 22%

And among age groups, young people 18 to 24 years old were the most likely to say they’d consider lying about their status (47 percent). According to the latest data from the CDC, this age group has the lowest vaccine rate among adults.4 Conversely, just 22 percent of adults aged 55 or older would consider lying about whether or not they’d been vaccinated against COVID-19.

How to Have Conversations About Vaccine Status

Given that a significant percentage of people we talked to say they could envision lying about their vaccination status, it’s safe to say many people aren’t quite sure how to have honest, open discussions with others about this topic. So, how can you have positive conversations about vaccines, even with those who may have differing views?

For starters, most experts agree that it’s only appropriate to inquire about someone’s vaccine status if it impacts your decision-making.5 Will you allow them inside your home (masked or unmasked)? Are you comfortable working alongside them in an office setting?

That said, regardless of whether you want to know if someone is vaccinated, if people are unwilling to divulge that information, you need to respect their wishes. Remember that you are not owed information about another person’s vaccine decision-making (but despite rampant misconceptions, it’s not against federal health law sto ask about someone’s vaccine status6).

With that in mind, here are a few tips for having conversations about COVID-19 vaccine status without ruining your relationships:

  1. Try to speak in person, over video chat, or by phone. Avoid having these conversations online or by text message, as these methods remove the emotional aspect of person-to-person communication.
  2. Don’t lie. If you are unvaccinated, it’s easy to assume you’re being attacked or judged if the other person wants to talk to you about it, and as we’ve seen, there are many reasons why both vaccinated and unvaccinated people might consider hiding the truth on this subject. But by hiding your status, it’s possible to expose the other person to more risk than they would be willing to accept.
  3. Listen more than you speak. Try not to interrupt the other person, and listen thoughtfully about what they are saying before you respond. With this issue, and just about every other one, most of us have a list of points in our minds that we keep at the ready. But remember that the point is not to win a political debate or internet accolades.
  4. Keep in touch with your mind and body. If you feel your blood pressure or body temperature start to rise, these can be signs that the conversation is deteriorating into an argument. When this happens, consider taking a break and changing the subject before (maybe) returning to it later.
  5. Show appreciation. Remember how we said nobody owes you an answer about whether they are vaccinated? If the person is willing to be open and honest with you, that’s a good sign that they trust you enough to speak about the topic, and you should thank them for placing their trust in you.
  6. Talk about your reasoning. Discussing the reasons why you aren’t vaccinated (or are) makes you vulnerable, but it also shows the other person that there is a real human on the other side of the conversation and not just a rhetorical construct. Keep data and statistics to a minimum in these conversations – they very rarely work at changing minds, anyway.7
  7. Agree to disagree. No doubt, there will be vaccine conversations in which no resolution can be found, and that’s OK. If, say, a vaccinated person can’t convince their unvaccinated friend to get the shot, that does not have to be the end of the relationship; it may simply mean that new boundaries need to be set. That may mean letting your friend or relative know that unless they get vaccinated, you’ll only see them in outdoor settings or that they must wear a mask inside your home.

Conclusion

With large percentages of vaccinated and unvaccinated people saying they can envision lying about their vaccine status if asked under certain circumstances, it’s a good idea to ask yourself if there are situations in which you might do the same – and why that may be.

Methodology

We conducted an anonymous online survey of 1,004 U.S. adults regarding vaccine deception, including if they personally had ever lied about their COVID-19 vaccine status, if they knew anybody who had, and under what circumstances they might consider lying about it in the future. We asked participants to affirm their commitment to honesty in their responses. 49.8 percent of participants were female, 49.5 percent were male, and fewer than 1 percent did not report. 58.6 percent of respondents were aged 18-34, 28.9 percent were aged 35-54, and 12.5% were aged 55 or older.

Approximately 70 percent of survey participants were vaccinated (defined as having had at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine) and 30 percent were unvaccinated. Around the time of this survey (January 2022), approximately 87 percent of U.S. adults had received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine according to the Centers for Disease Control COVID Data Tracker.

References

  1. https://www.si.com/nfl/2021/12/03/antonio-brown-fake-vaccine-card-citrus-county
  2. https://www.nfl.com/news/aaron-rodgers-full-responsibility-misleading-comments-covid-19-vaccine
  3. https://fox5sandiego.com/news/coronavirus/fake-vaccine-cardmakers-sellers-facing-federal-charges/
  4. https://data.cdc.gov/Vaccinations/COVID-19-Vaccination-and-Case-Trends-by-Age-Group-/gxj9-t96f/data
  5. https://www.nytimes.com/2021/06/22/well/family/employee-vaccine-status-questions.html
  6. https://dearpandemic.org/hipaa-and-vaccination-status/
  7. https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2017/02/27/why-facts-dont-change-our-minds

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