Messaging: How governments can turn vaccines into vaccinations
The world is preparing to execute the largest vaccine distribution in history to combat COVID-19—named the largest modern public health crisis. Governments at all levels face two key imperatives: Manage the complex delivery process AND proactively engage with residents before, during, and after vaccination.
Even with COVID-19 vaccines becoming more available to the general population, the success of a vaccine strategy relies critically on people’s participation. That’s why Qualtrics partnered in early December with Duke University’s Dr. Sunshine Hillygus, professor of political science, to conduct a national Vaccine Message Testing study. We asked more than 4,000 individuals in the United States about their sentiment around the COVID-19 vaccine, their intent to take the vaccine, and what would make them more likely to get vaccinated.
Our findings reinforce the urgency of public communications to make the vaccine strategy work. A concerning proportion of respondents (35%) said they don’t plan to vaccinate. And 61% of respondents said they have only some, little, or no confidence that their state has the proper systems in place to effectively deliver the COVID-19 vaccine.
Additionally, 47% of respondents with some High School education or less plan to get vaccinated compared with 84% of respondents with a graduate or professional degree.
How can governments drive adoption through messages that people will hear and act on? Here’s what we found:
The message matters for intent to vaccinate
To test the impact of messaging on intent to vaccinate, we showed our respondents a message from one of four fictional sources (a Democratic politician, a Republican politician, a bipartisan group of politicians, or a medical doctor), discussing the vaccine in one of four different categories (stats, community, emotion, and personal). Here’s how the categories are defined:
- Stats: a message that included statistics about the seriousness of COVID-19
- Community: a message about keeping those around you safe by getting vaccinated
- Emotion: a message about losing a close friend to the effects of COVID-19
- Personal: a message with instructions on how to keep yourself safe by getting vaccinated
Compared to a control group who did not receive any messaging about COVID-19, we found that the impact of messaging varies significantly by political affiliation and race/ethnicity.
- When those who identify as Democrats saw the stats message, their reported intent to vaccinate increased by 8 percentage points (73% vs. 81%)
- When those who identify as Republicans saw the stats message, their reported intent to vaccinate decreased by 10 percentage points (63% vs. 53%)
- When respondents who identify as Black saw the emotional message, their reported intent to vaccinate increased by 13 percentage points (54% vs. 67%). When Black or Hispanic respondents saw the emotional messages, their reported intent to vaccinate increased by 17 percentage points (45% vs. 62%). The emotional message has no effect on reported intent to vaccinate among non-Hispanic white respondents.
Since the goal is to increase the number of residents who get vaccinated, governments should avoid broad campaigns that deliver the same message to everyone. Instead, communication should be carefully tailored to specific audiences based on what type of message most resonates.
Increase trust by leveraging those who are trusted
Our study found that people are more likely to take action when they hear the message from someone they trust. When respondents reported they were not planning to get vaccinated, we asked them what factors would make them be more likely to participate. Here is what they told us:
- 42% said a recommendation from their personal doctor would make them more likely to take the vaccine
- 34% said a recommendation from a trusted family member would make them more likely to take the vaccine
- 34% said a recommendation from a leading health expert would make them more likely to take the vaccine
Interestingly, we saw a smaller positive effect if the vaccine was recommended by the following groups of people:
- 19% of respondents said they would be more likely to take the vaccine if recommended by religious leaders.
- 17% of respondents said they would be more likely to take the vaccine if recommended by both Democratic and Republican political leaders.
- 16% of respondents said they would be more likely to take the vaccine if recommended by local business owners.
So not only does the message matter - but the messenger also plays a significant role in driving action. Governments must leverage the right communication networks and channels to achieve the results desired from this critical investment in public health messaging.
Other significant findings from the study include:
- 1 in 7 respondents say they personally know someone who died from COVID-19
- 72% of male respondents plan to get vaccinated compared with 61% of female respondents
- 54% say the White House has not taken COVID-19 risks seriously enough
- 45% say the media greatly or slightly exaggerated risks when it comes to COVID-19, while 40% say they got the risks about right
- 48% somewhat or strongly support a policy requiring all children attending public school to be vaccinated for COVID-19
- 54% somewhat or strongly support a policy requiring documentation of the COVID-19 vaccination for air travel
The experience of early vaccination participants can have a significant impact on confidence in the process for those in later phases. Governments are working right now to craft vaccine adoption messages, identify compelling messengers, and find the communications channels that reach the right people. To achieve the highest possible vaccine adoption, governments need to apply data and insights on what messages work for specific population segments. With the right message from the right messengers, governments can increase trust and participation at this critical time in our public health.
Qualtrics created the Vaccine Management + Citizen Experience Solution, helping governments deliver the COVID-19 vaccine safely and efficiently to their communities.
To learn more about Qualtrics’ vaccine solution, please visit https://www.qualtrics.com/back-to-business-communities.
Learn more about the Vaccine Management + Citizen Experience Solution
The study was sponsored and conducted by Qualtrics, in partnership with Duke University’s Dr. Sunshine Hillygus, professor of political science, and Gabriel Madson, survey analyst, Duke Initiative on Survey Methodology, and was fielded between December 3 and December 15, 2020. Respondents were sampled from the online nonprobability panel Federated, managed by Lucid. We used quotas to match respondents to the US population with respect to age, gender, race/ethnicity, region, and ideology (the extent to which one identifies as liberal or conservative). Age, gender, race/ethnicity, and region parameters were based on the 2019 American Community Survey. Parameters for ideology were based on Gallup’s Trends in Americans’ Political Ideology 2020 report.
Respondents were considered eligible if they lived in the United States, were at least 18 years of age, and had not participated in a COVID-19 vaccine clinical trial.
A total of 4,938 respondents completed the survey. Respondents who did not pass quality standards were removed. This included respondents who completed the survey in less than one-third the median time, respondents who twice failed an attention check asking who the president of the United States was, or respondents who could not correctly identify the topic (i.e., COVID-19) discussed in the study message they were shown. A total of 4,019 respondents passed the quality standards and were included in the analyses.
A copy of the question wording is available at the link below: https://www.qualtrics.com/m/assets/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/VaccineMessageTestingQuestionnaire.docx.pdf
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