Availability Heuristic

Why public health providers struggle in convincing over-65’s to get a flu jab

Availability Heuristic: We heavily weigh decisions and opinions towards information that is easier to recall.

As the long, dark and cold days of winter start to roll in, public health organisations start promoting flu vaccinations to vulnerable segments of the population. My grandparents fit into this group.

Each year they staunchly ignore the advice explaining; “Do you know they inject you with the flu! Last year, three of our friends developed a really bad case of the flu after being vaccinated”.

Whilst hard to quantify, different reports show the vaccine reduces the risk of contracting flu by about 50% to 60%. In the case of my grandparents, that means it is very likely 6 out of every 10 of their friends who had the flu jab had a much lower risk of contracting it.

However, my grandparents in their 80’s are unlikely to recall such specific probabilities. It’s much easier to remember friends from their weekly Bingo session who were struck down with the flu in previous years.

And therein lies the problem. Immediate examples that come to our minds when evaluating a specific topic, concept, method or decision weigh much more heavily. The Availability Heuristic operates on the notion that if something can be recalled, it must be important, or at least more important than alternatives not as readily recalled.

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