Because large percentages of people avoid vaccination because of hesitancy, studies are trying to better understand vaccine intention so that communities can reach herd immunity. This is not just a local concern but a global problem. In this analysis of social media (i.e., Twitter) posts originating from posters in five areas across the world, researchers found that negative tweets, such as misinformation or vaccine skepticism, attracted more public engagement than positive messages. Thus, the researchers argue that it is urgent to develop public health messages to address hesitancy and increase public confidence in the vaccine.
In this editorial, the authors argue that public health communicators’ lack of engagement with vaccine hesitant individuals online has left a void. Instead of simply removing questionable content about vaccines, which has backfired in many instances, the authors argue that trusted health care providers should collaborate with public health experts to develop evidence-based, positive messages addressing vaccine hesitant individuals’ concerns, such as vaccine efficacy.
One particular group of people who have higher rates of vaccine hesitancy are people of color. To reach this population, researchers of this review article suggest that messages with information that target underserved racial and ethnic minorities in a culturally competent manner are essential for educating these target groups. Particularly important is dispelling misinformation about vaccine safety and efficacy. Another research study supports this idea as it determined that people of color opposed vaccinations through direct opposition, vaccine hesitancy, and adverse reactions, which relied a lot on scientific, political, and racial misinformation. The researchers suggest that results of their study support the need to include public health messaging through social media, particularly Twitter, from multiple viewpoints to address racial and ethnic concerns about the vaccine.
Another group that has shown to be hesitant in this survey is adult women, with only a third responding that they were likely to be vaccinated. Most wanted more information about safety and proof that the vaccine works. The researchers in this study shared effective communicative strategies for persuading vaccine-hesitant individuals including recommendations from physicians and positive social media messages.
Although many of these articles have focused on social media use, another study found that people are engaging less on social media about COVID-19 and instead are focusing on daily living even as cases increased. Still, the authors argue that public health messaging should include targeted public health prevention measures to engage people with recommended behaviors so they are at the forefront of people’s minds. This is likely because, as another study found, people are relying heavily on social media during the pandemic. They are not, however, “fact-checking” the information they read with health professionals. Therefore, the authors argue that health professionals need to be not only strategic but also proactive with engaging with people on social media. This can help reduce the negative effects of circulating misinformation.
It is not just vaccines that people are hesitant towards. In this study of people in one of the most COVID-19 prevention resistant states in America, researchers found that misinformation and conspiracy theories are the most common barriers for engaging in simple prevention behaviors such as mask-wearing. They determined though that information campaigns alone likely will not change the distrust of prevention-resistant people because behaviors are rooted in more than just facts. Instead, they argue that health communication experts must develop campaigns that increase perceptions of threat and efficacy.