Encouraging vaccination uptake through public health messaging in pandemics review

Media Relations Team, 06 March 2021

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Close-up of person giving injection into patient's arm, both wearing face masks.

A rapid review of studies looking at how the public respond to health messages encouraging vaccination in a pandemic, has found there’s room for improvement when it comes to achieving uptake.

Scientists have made significant, rapid breakthroughs to protect communities against Covid, however, there is concern that vaccine hesitancy could hugely impact vaccination efforts.

UWE Bristol Psychology Senior Lecturer Elizabeth Jenkinson is part of a group who undertook the review to understand public responses to health messages encouraging vaccination against infectious diseases during pandemics to inform future successful promotional campaigns and communications.

She said: “Public health teams need to understand how readily the public responds to different kinds of vaccination messages in order to inform successful campaigns which encourage the uptake of new vaccines as they become available.”

The aim of the review was to identify and appraise evidence which evaluated the effectiveness of public health messaging in encouraging vaccination against infectious diseases in a pandemic or epidemic. It considered a wide range of messages delivered across all mediums such as emails, letters, text messages, television broadcasts, newspaper articles and mass media campaigns.

Elizabeth said: “Our review suggests that messages need to be credible, use community-wide outreach and frame risk appropriately”

“It is important that public health teams ensure messages are tailored to be personally relevant, short clear, use an appropriate message, and are delivered in language that the target audience can understand. This can be achieved by co-designing messages alongside the communities they are targeting.”

Research has shown a variety of psychological factors are associated with vaccine hesitancy, such as a lack of understanding about eligibility, concern over side effects, beliefs that the vaccination is not effective, perceptions of not being at sufficient risk, being against vaccines in principle, and not having the time.

Elizabeth explained: “How messages are framed can have an impact on intentions to vaccinate. Messages should address the information needs of target populations, use credible sources and be clear about what is known about vaccines without over-emphasising the health benefits of vaccination.”

The findings of the rapid review indicate that ongoing and high-quality evaluations of public health campaigns to promote vaccination during a pandemic are needed to inform future communication strategies for promoting vaccination uptake. Further research is required to make clear conclusions regarding the most effective medium and the intensity of delivery of messaging to have the biggest impact.

Elizabeth concluded: “Future campaigns should draw on the rapidly-emerging evidence on what works in promoting vaccination intention and uptake during the current pandemic, engage target populations in their design and highlight the benefits of vaccination to society as a whole, not just the individual”.

Read the full paper.

Summary from Evidence Aid.

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