With the COVID-19 pandemic still in full force, people continue to talk about how it affects daily living, what can be done to return to “normal,” and whether vaccination is the answer. In this analysis of more than 7 million tweets, researchers were able to determine what the public was talking about and how they felt about it. Administration and access to the vaccine were the biggest concerns and most felt fearful; however, others felt joy about the vaccinations. The authors argue that by recognizing trending topics, health communicators can better understand public concerns and emotions associated with them so that messages can be tailored and targeted to provide authoritative health information that is appealing to different populations. The fear that many Americans express is likely what has led to vaccine resistance. With just slightly more than half of Americans vaccinated against COVID-19, it is not surprising that much of the research the past month has focused on vaccine hesitancy with the goal of finding effective communication strategies to persuade people to be vaccinated.
In this commentary exploring online misinformation and vaccine hesitancy, the authors discuss the effects misinformation is having on attitudes about the COVID-19 vaccine and provide suggestions for health care providers, social media platforms, researchers, and lay vaccination advocates to combat misinformation online. The lack of scientific understanding and mistrust of authority has led to the spread of false and misleading information, which is decreasing some people’s willingness to be vaccinated. According to the authors, all individuals have a responsibility to correct false information. Specifically though, health care providers should discuss the importance, safety, and effectiveness of the vaccines (and they need to be aware of the professional consequences, such as losing their certification or license, if they spread COVID-19 vaccine misinformation); social media platforms should monitor and develop algorithms to identify information and ban such information; and researchers should develop digital tools like artificial intelligence to identify and remove misinformation online.
Several researchers have argued for tailored messaging to address vaccine hesitancy. In a recent report, researchers echoed this suggestion after their study of vaccine hesitancy among patients with neurological disorders provided actionable data to identify who to target and predictors to address to increase vaccine acceptance. Specific details about the large dataset can be found in the linked article.
In this timely research article, the researchers explored the effects of expert and political messaging on vaccination intentions among Trump supporters. They found that Trump voters claimed a greater intention to be vaccinated if they were exposed to a video of Trump endorsing the vaccine than if a public health expert communicated the same information. Their findings suggest that a political speaker’s endorsement may increase willingness to be vaccinated if the viewer identifies with the speaker, regardless of the speaker’s expertise. This study further supports research that political identity is an important driver of behavioral health interventions.
Still, many studies argue that scientific or cultural leaders should be communicating messages. For example, a study found that in the Latino community, COVID-19 vaccination messages need to come from a wide range of health care providers and advocates, and information should be disseminated in community venues such as schools, churches, and supermarkets. The messages should be understandable by all age groups, and including information that can be discussed intergenerationally is important for this demographic. Utilizing culturally centered campaigns that focuses on the family unit is vital for persuading Latinos to be vaccinated. And another study that focused on experts and trusted sources of information to deliver messages also noted that, especially among individuals who were concerned about the vaccine development process, messages about rigor and approval processes need to be clear and are critical for vaccine acceptance.
So, beyond who is giving the message, tailored messaging should also consider the content of the message. Some studies actually argue different foci, which is influenced by who the target of the message is. In this qualitative study of U.S. veterans and U.S. Veteran Affairs (VA) employees, researchers determined that messages need to be patient-centered, delivered by a trusted health care provider or peer, and should focus on the expected benefits for family, friends, and society in general. Similarly, when considering child vaccination, a pediatrics professor argues in The Atlantic that the value of the vaccination for the child and for those who are around the child must be communicated to parents, particularly from health care providers, experts, and peers. However, in another report, researchers argue that the dangers of not getting the vaccination must be communicated, especially with people who do not know anyone who has been affected by COVID-19. Instead of focusing on just the benefits of the vaccine, this group of people need to more fully appreciate the morbidity and mortality impact of COVID-19; thus, the risk of not being vaccinated should be more clearly communicated, according to these authors.
Finally, the results of this worldwide Delphi study validated the use of 12 behavioral strategies to be used in health communication campaigns promoting COVID-19 vaccinations. Although all 12 US-based strategies were recommended for use worldwide, it was noted that region-based adaptations would be needed for the strategies to be effective in local contexts. This article describes the strategies and offers adaptations and exemplars from around the world for health promotion.