The Vaccine Blog

Regret about vaccination and other decisions .

Here's an unwelcome visitor in many people's lives




Regardless of whether it's about vaccines or another healthcare decision; or even any decision  - regret is always difficult.

An article on illustrates this well “A friend of mine – we will call him “Jay” – was working for IBM in New York City in the early ‘90s. He was a computer programmer and made a good salary. Occasionally, competitors and startups approached Jay to join their companies. He had an offer from an interesting but small organisation in Seattle, but the salary was paltry and most of the offer package was in company shares. After consulting with friends and his parents, Jay declined the offer and stayed with IBM. He has regretted it ever since. That small company was Microsoft.”


Regret is difficult enough in the broadest sense of the word but healthcare decisions carry much higher stakes. This is especially true when it comes to healthcare decisions that affect other people. However when it impacts many people or even has the potential to impact many people the regret (any any associated negative emotions) can be amplified. This can be especially true when the decision can impact the remainder of one`s life, or the remainder of other`s lives.It may last any amount of time. This may be minutes, days, weeks, months, years, or in extreme cases a lifetime. Or, in other cases, there is no regret immediately and it only develops after reflecting on a decision or situation. It may then become worse (or better) over time. This depends on the individual temperament, possibly experiences they have after the decision, whether they are forgiven and so on.


 A key factor for many is whether the decision is revocable or not. Being slightly late to meeting someone once or twice can be forgiven, and forgetting to buy the milk probably won't destroy your relationship with family or significant others. These sort of smaller-scale, everyday decisions very rarely lead to regret However, there are other split-second decisions that do. One can`t revoke hurtful things said and/or done in anger; for example. There are also decisions that are not made in a split second that can cause regret. Vaccination is, of course, one of them; as are many healthcare decisions like cosmetic surgeries and choosing whether or not to take medication suggested by a physician. 


It can be all-encompassing in some cases. For that reason, it's worth discussing regret in the context of healthcare decisions more broadly and then I'll focus more specifically on vaccination decision making. 


As Jay's story at the beginning illustrated well, one reason regret (or the prospect of it) is difficult is because we can't predict what the outcomes of a decision will be. There are an infinite number of factors that dictate the outcomes of decisions. Some of these we're aware of, many others we are not.Some we have some degree of control over; many we don`t. These principles mean that it is impossible to predict what the outcome of any given decision will be.That can be a significant source of distress of regret and associated negative emotions that people feel; such as sorrow, helplessness, fear, and many others besides .


On the point of fear;  fear of the unknown also  factors in. Very few things distress people more than fear of the unknown; be it about health, work, personal life, and so on. I`ve said this before; but it's worth repeating. We know side effects to vaccines are of course very rare. However we cannot control who will have side effects, what side effects they will have and so on. I of course fully support vaccination and all public health measures. However on the individual level, when side effects do occur, regret can be all encompassing.Thanks for reading


  1. Regret can be all-consuming – a neurobehavioral scientist explains how people can overcome it