5 messages that could sway vaccine-hesitant Americans, 3 that could backfire

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As healthcare communication professionals continue to reach the millions of Americans who have not been vaccinated against COVID-19, it's important they avoid fear-based messaging, according to research conducted by data science consulting firm Civis.

Civis tested eight messaging themes in a trial involving  5,110 unvaccinated adults across the U.S. from Aug. 19 to Sept. 8. Below are eight of the trial's findings:

  1. Describing the rise in COVID-19 cases among children and emphasizing that adults' vaccinations help protect children was the most effective strategy. This messaging theme increased participants' reported likelihood of getting vaccinated by 6 percentage points on average.

  2. Communicating that a severe COVID-19 case can be expensive and that vaccination can help avoid financial burdens was the second-most effective strategy. This messaging theme increased participants' reported likelihood of getting vaccinated by 5 percentage points on average.

  3. Emphasizing the opportunities and activities from which unvaccinated people could be excluded, such as concerts and international travel, was a marginally persuasive strategy. This messaging theme increased participants' reported likelihood of getting vaccinated by 3 percentage points on average.

  4. Emphasizing that it's normal to have questions about COVID-19 vaccines and highlighting that vaccination is a personal choice increased participants' reported likelihood of getting vaccinated by 1 percentage point on average.

  5. Communicating that vaccines are an example of American ingenuity and getting vaccinated is an act of patriotism increased participants' reported likelihood of getting vaccinated by 1 percentage point on average.

  6. Highlighting COVID-19 vaccine safety by describing the rigorous testing and FDA review processes decreased participants' reported likelihood of getting vaccinated by 2 percentage points on average.

  7. Sharing statistics on the dangers of COVID-19, particularly about the increased contagiousness of the delta variant and potential to cause more severe illness, decreased participants' reported likelihood of getting vaccinated by 3 percentage points on average.

  8. Showing participants an Alabama physician describing unvaccinated patients under her care dying of COVID-19 and begging to be vaccinated was the messaging theme that backfired the most. It decreased their reported likelihood of getting vaccinated by 4 percentage points on average. 
 

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