Determining what is keeping people from being vaccinated against COVID-19, and how to communicate more persuasively to encourage more people to get vaccinated, is essential to getting the pandemic under control. This is true among all groups of people.
In this article, the authors discuss three flawed assumptions that need addressed to get more health care providers vaccinated: (1) the belief that frontline health care workers are inclined to get vaccinated, (2) the idea that vaccine hesitancy is prevalent only among the general population, and (3) scientific arguments are sufficient to persuade health professionals to be vaccinated. They argue that social psychology is a viable approach to counteracting vaccine hesitancy in health care settings. It is first important to recognize the complexity involved with vaccine hesitancy. Specifically, the authors argue that the decision to be vaccinated is determined by a combination of individuals’ core background beliefs and individual circumstances. These affect the gap between actual and desired levels of confidence, and with the COVID-19 vaccine, the gap is large leading to cognitive polyphasia. Because of this, it is important to note that there is no “one-size fits all” approach to communicating with people about vaccination; and therefore, better, more targeted communication needs to be implemented.
In a study of workers on a military base, the authors found that those who are younger and who worked in the medical field were more likely to identify as vaccine hesitant. They were concerned about short- and long-term side effects, vaccine effectiveness, and misinformation among other things. The authors argue that a vaccination campaign targeting the military population is necessary to address vaccine hesitancy, especially among a group that most consider more likely to be vaccine compliant (i.e., medial personnel).
In another group of people who many assumed would support COVID-19 vaccination – those who are highly compliant with other types of vaccinations – only about a quarter of people claimed willingness to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. In this study, like others, the main concern leading to vaccine hesitancy is safety concerns. The authors argue that health education and effective communication strategies addressing these concerns must reach these people, and others, to achieve large-scale vaccine acceptability.
And it is not just vaccine hesitancy that needs to be addressed to increase vaccination. In this report, the researchers determined that disparities in county-level vaccination coverage by social vulnerability have increased. This is especially true in counties with lower socioeconomic status and higher percentages of households with children, single parents, and persons with disabilities. Much like suggestions for addressing vaccine hesitancy, the authors argue that tailored public health messaging can increase vaccination rates.
Recognizing the seriousness of the issue of vaccination has led numerous researchers, government officials, and funding agencies to determine best practices for reaching different populations and encouraging them to get vaccinated. Some things have not been very successful, but we learn from them and move on. For example, this study tried to influence young people’s willingness to get the COVID-19 vaccine by focusing on descriptive social norms. However, the practical usefulness of this approach was limited and the effort to determine and target social norms may not be worth the effort. What is known to be more effective is providing clear, honest, respectful, and (in most cases) targeted communication with the public and among community, health, and government partners. In this commentary, the authors explore the National Institutes of Health communicative initiatives for reducing vaccine hesitancy, increasing vaccine confidence, and increasing engagement in underserved populations and found these communicative recommendations to be accurate.
One final note: as vaccinations are plateauing, a public health professor writes in this commentary that referring to vaccine “hesitancy” and “resistance” is exacerbating the problem. She argues that we need to focus on what motivates people to be vaccinated and not call attention to potential problems that may not exist. Specifically, she argues that most people who are not currently getting the vaccine are not hesitant or resistant, but instead have other reasons for not getting vaccinated, such as wanting more information before making a decision. As she notes, evidence suggests that you should not draw attention to things you don’t want people to be thinking (like vaccine hesitancy), recognize that vaccine confidence is not a fixed mindset, and look at past drivers of vaccination behaviors to know what to focus on with this particular vaccine. By talking with people on their own terms and timelines, she believes they are more likely to engage in learning and ultimately making the decision to be vaccinated.