The nocebo effect

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The nocebo effect

People protest the enforcement of vaccinations and the vaccine pass system in Seoul on Jan. 15. [JEONG JUN-HEE]

The author is the head of the Innovation Lab of the JoongAng Ilbo. 

A middle school student who goes to a Christian school does not like her religious education class. Rather than covering various religions, it only teaches Christianity. When she learns about the Ten Commandments filled with don’ts, such as “Thou shalt have no other gods before me,” she wants to resist and say, “I disagree.”

This sense of repulsion is not exclusive to adolescence. To a certain degree, everyone feels like doing the opposite of what theyr’e commanded to do.

French researchers published an interesting paper in the international scientific journal Nature Medicine. After introducing the health pass system, the vaccination rate went up in France, but distrust and resistance over vaccines did not decrease.

Since last August, France has required proof of vaccination or negative test results to enter bars, libraries and hospitals. The full vaccination rate of two or more doses went up from 49 percent in July to 89 percent in mid-December. But the effect on groups vulnerable to Covid-19 was relatively low. The percentage of people who doubt vaccines jumped from 44 percent to 61 percent after the introduction of the pass system. The number of people saying they regretted getting vaccinated or are upset about the mandate soared.

Researchers are concerned of the “nocebo effect” from people’s perception of vaccines as being harmful when vaccination is mandatory. The nocebo effect is the opposite of the placebo effect. In fact, in France, respondents who claim to have side effects from the first dose of vaccination surged to 57 percent from 34 percent before the pass.

In Korea, the Seoul Administrative Court has suspended the vaccine pass system at large supermarkets, department stores and youth facilities in Seoul. The court recognized that the vaccine pass is effective, but restricting unvaccinated people to essential facilities or enforcing the vaccine pass system on minors is an excessive restriction. The government retracted the vaccine pass at essential facilities nationwide. It may prove to be an important decision in the field of psychological disease control. 

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