This week’s articles explore hesitancies towards vaccines and other COVID-19 preventive behaviors and communicative strategies for encouraging uptake of these actions.
Before herd immunity is reached by enough people getting vaccinated, it is important for individuals to practice recommended preventive behaviors to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. For example, this study showed that individuals who oppose wearing masks do so because of physical discomfort, ineffectiveness, and perceptions of being unnecessary or inappropriate for certain people or circumstances. The authors suggest communication strategies such as transparency in data and reasoning, admitting mistakes with information early in the pandemic, and educating the public on how to interpret inconclusive or conflicting scientific findings to improve public perception of mask-wearing, especially among anti-maskers.
In another study, researchers assessed social concerns and moral principles to determine best foci to persuade people to engage in recommended behaviors. In their study of nearly 7,000 individuals from 23 countries, they found that individuals’ willingness to comply with recommended behaviors are determined by trust in government and science. People were more likely to trust science if they endorsed the moral principles of fairness and care, which led to greater likelihood of engaging in recommended behaviors. Public communication strategies should include tailoring messages not just based on demographics but also to the specific values in specific regions, and communicators must recognize that multiple messages will be needed to reach different subgroups. This perspective also echoes these sentiments when arguing that the scientific community needs to communicate sensitivity when discussing vaccines and vaccine hesitancy.
When values and attitudes are unknown in each region, demographic data can provide useful information for targeting messages related to vaccination. In this national survey of U.S. adults, researchers learned that 22% of participants were unlikely to get the COVID-19 vaccine, particularly those who had lower education, lower income, or perceived less threat of getting infected. Vaccine hesitancy was highest among African Americans and Hispanics, individuals who had children living at home, people who lived in rural settings, and those who identified as Republican. The researchers urge health communicators to pay special attention to these groups.
In this experiment of Americans’ expectations and preferences for the COVID-19 vaccine, the researchers determined that more than 30% of participants refused to get a vaccine. The main preferences for vaccine uptake included US-made vaccines with at least 90% effectiveness ratings and less than 1% chance of minor side effects. What did not influence vaccine intentions were number of doses needed, how quickly the vaccine was developed, or what type of vaccine was available (mRNA-based vs weakened viral). Knowing this information can help health communication experts design messages by highlighting aligned preferences with vaccines and addressing public concerns in other areas.
Because vaccine rates, in general, remain low due to misperceptions about vaccines, this study sought to examine the role of doctor-patient communication about vaccination. Using a nationally representative U.S. sample, researchers determined that communication from a doctor is crucial in building patients’ trust and positively affecting vaccination attitudes and behaviors. Verified communication from physicians may be one of the most effective strategies to encourage vaccination during a pandemic.
After reviewing evidence from social, behavioral, communication, and implementation sciences, a group of researchers presented their findings and recommendations for addressing COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy in the United States. In this report in the Mayo Clinic Proceedings, researchers provide a multi-level approach to intervene with patients in clinical settings. They offer organizational-, interpersonal-, and individual-level intervention strategies. Message strategies include framing message in terms of gain, using presumptive-style language, and addressing potential barriers. Using figures and tables, the researchers provide useful examples for each of their suggested strategies.