Personal Benefits Sway the Vaccine-Hesitant More Than Messaging on Community Benefits

By Linda Carroll

May 18, 2021

(Reuters Health) - Providing information about the personal benefits of COVID-19 vaccination may be the best way to spur those who are hesitant to get the shot, a new study finds.

An analysis of responses from 15,014 UK adults surveyed about their willingness to get vaccinated after being provided with a variety of types of information revealed that materials describing the personal benefits of getting the shot were more effective than those describing vaccine safety or its benefits to society, according to the report published in The Lancet Public Health.

"Most people in the UK are very willing to get vaccinated," said the study's lead author, Daniel Freeman, a professor in the department of psychiatry at the University of Oxford. "And they accept the collective benefits of the jab. For the skeptical 10%, however, that message probably isn't going to work so well now."

"If you think vaccines may be very unsafe, then you will be worried about what getting the jab will do to you," Freeman said in an email. "The decision-making process becomes dominated by concerns about personal risk. The study indicates that the best way to counter these concerns, therefore, is to highlight the opposite: personal benefits."

It makes sense that arguments concerning public health benefits won't resonate with certain people, Freeman said.

"It is also likely to be the case that people who feel that society does not care about them are less likely to be receptive to messaging that relies for its effectiveness on a sense of belonging," he explained. "Almost by definition then, for this group, messages that focus on the personal ramifications of COVID-19 are likely to be much more compelling."

To take a look at the kinds of messages that might help convince vaccine-hesitant adults to get the COVID-19 shot, Freeman and his colleagues performed a single-blind, parallel-group, randomized controlled trial, with planned mediation and moderation tests. The experiment was conducted online with participants asked to complete an item for stratification by vaccine hesitancy level, to provide sociodemographic information, to read the vaccine information in their randomly allotted condition, and then to complete measures of COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy and COVID-19 complacency and confidence beliefs.

The researchers recruited participants between January 19 and February 5, 2021, ultimately including 15,014 adults in the analysis.

The participants were randomly assigned to receive educational material that fell into one of 10 categories: safety and effectiveness; safety and effectiveness plus collective vaccination benefit of not personally getting ill; safety and effectiveness plus collective benefit of not personally getting ill and not transmitting the virus to others; safety and effectiveness plus the personal benefits of getting vaccinated; safety and effectiveness plus the seriousness of the pandemic; directly addressing concerns about vaccine safety related to the speed of development; indirectly addressing concerns about vaccine safety related to the speed of development; safety and effectiveness plus the collective benefit of not personally getting ill and not transmitting the virus to others along with the personal benefit of getting vaccinated; safety and effectiveness plus the collective benefit of not personally getting ill and not transmitting the virus to others, the personal benefit of getting vaccinated, the seriousness of the virus and information indirectly addressing concerns about vaccine safety related to the speed of development.

The control condition was being provided the safety and effectiveness statement taken from the UK National Health Service website.

Freeman notes that personal impact was described as: "catching coronavirus can seriously disrupt your life. It can take you away from work, education, family, and friends. Even mild symptoms mean you'll be required to isolate for ten days, with all the inconvenience that brings. And you can't be sure, even if you're relatively young and fit, that you won't be seriously ill or struggle with long-term COVID-related problems: as many as one in five people are still unwell five weeks after contracting COVID-19; one in ten are still experiencing symptoms three months later. Vaccination minimizes the chances of you falling ill with COVID-19, so you won't need to worry about what the virus might have in store for you."

In the end, it was that description of the impact of the virus on individuals that strongly-hesitant participants found to be the most convincing. In comparison with the control condition, personal benefit information reduced hesitancy (mean difference -1.49).

The new study is "quite interesting," said Dr. Wafaa El-Sadr, a professor of epidemiology and medicine and founding director of ICAP at the Columbia Mailman School of Public Health in New York City. "Right now, little rigorous research goes into evaluating interventions to overcome vaccine hesitancy," she said.

Dr. El-Sadr was happy to see "a well-designed, well conducted study that provides important insight we could all use. Usually we recommend highlighting both the personal benefits and the social benefits. What this study is saying is that when people are reluctant to take the vaccine, we should dwell a little more on individual benefits rather than the societal ones. I think that is the most important message."

SOURCE: https://bit.ly/3uVkeyn and https://bit.ly/3uVJrZo The Lancet Public Health, online May 12, 2021.

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