Messaging that focuses on individual consequences rather than the ramifications for a community may be more effective in persuading those who remain vaccine hesitant, according to Washington State University researchers.

For the study, researchers recruited around 400 participants who were split into four groups that were exposed to different kinds of vaccine messages. They were first asked how they felt about vaccines, and then shown messages tailored to look like social media posts by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Lead researcher and WSU Associate Professor Porismita Borah said messages that emphasized the potential risks of not being vaccinated to the individual gained significantly more traction than those that mentioned community, or possible positive effects of vaccination.

“This research at least shows that the individual message was more impactful — it was able to persuade people more in the direction that we want,” Borah said. “They showed more positive attitudes towards the COVID vaccine, as well as intention to get the vaccination.”

The study did find that those who came into the study with a positive view of vaccination were more likely to respond positively to vaccine messaging overall but wording that focused specifically on potential health risks to the individual had the strongest effect.

Borah said this study took place in July 2020, before vaccines — and the misinformation surrounding them — were abundantly available. She said she is now researching the effectiveness of vaccine messaging in a landscape rife with vaccine misinformation.

“There is so much misinformation about the COVID vaccine online, and otherwise,” she said. “It would be really important to look at these same (factors) for other messages in this sort of environment — people have to navigate through this misinformation.”

Borah said this study looked at populations broadly across the U.S. but resistance to vaccine messaging is also affected by other factors like political ideology, age and gender.

While it’s common to talk about the vaccine hesitant as a single group, she said within that group is a variety of people who are resistant for different reasons. She said there are some who are so adamant they will not be swayed, but others could be persuaded with the right messaging.“There are certain people who are hesitant because they don’t have enough information. Those are the groups who we really wanted to give correct information and reach out to them in a way that might work,” she said. “There are others who maybe are scared of some sort of experiences, they’ve had with another vaccination, or they know somebody who’s had some kind of side effects. Those are possible to reach out (to) and perhaps change their mind.”

Jackson can be reached at (208) 883-4636, or by email to sjackson@dnews.com.

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