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Do people who mock COVID anti-vaxxers really wish harm for them?

With a subreddit dedicated to mocking anti-vaxxers who die from COVID-19, researchers wanted to know if people truly wanted them to suffer.
Do people who mock COVID anti-vaxxers really wish harm for them?
Posted at 8:37 AM, Jul 25, 2023

A study published by researchers from the Ohio State University shows that few people rejoice in the death of anti-vaxxers, but there are some who lack empathy toward them. 

The study was inspired by the Herman Cain Award forum on Reddit. The subreddit often shares stories of those publicly declaring opposition to COVID-19 vaccines or social distancing efforts before becoming significantly ill with the virus. 

Herman Cain was a former presidential candidate who died in July 2020 with COVID-19 10 days after attending a rally for then-President Donald Trump. 

The researchers found that 4.6% of those surveyed said those who refused to get the vaccine deserved to die. 

“We have people who are judging anti-vaxxers and considering them deserving of some level of suffering, but on the other hand, there’s very little positive emotion about watching them suffer,” study co-author Rebecca Frazer said in a press release.

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The researchers presented mock Facebook status updates from someone named Terry Adams. One of the posts expressed uncertainty about the COVID-19 vaccine. In this case, researchers found most people were understanding of Adams. 

But when Adams later authored posts about contracting COVID-19, the response from some depended on whether Adams regretted not getting the vaccine. The researchers noted that 63% of Democrats and 80% of Republicans thought people like Adams deserved a full recovery. 

“Republicans were more okay with Terry continuing to question the vaccine and less positive than Democrats when Terry regretted not getting the vaccine,” study co-author Matthew Grizzard, an assistant professor of communications at Ohio State, said.

The study's authors noted, however, that the majority of respondents did not take pleasure in someone suffering from COVID-19. 

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“We saw a moral judgment by those who thought Terry deserved some level of suffering or death, and they wanted justice to be served, or at least what they considered justice,” Frazer said. “But even they didn’t express a lot of happiness at Terry’s death.”

But that moral judgment may come from the thought that by opposing COVID-19 vaccines and social distancing measures, those individuals put themselves and others at risk. 

Leading researchers say getting vaccinated continues to lower the risk of serious complications of COVID-19. 

“It is more a feeling that anti-vaxxers acted immorally and maybe put others at risk. And because of that, they deserve some level of suffering. But even those who are judging these anti-vaxxers most harshly are typically not rejoicing in their suffering or death,” Grizzard said.

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