Emphasising the personal benefits of vaccination against Covid may be an effective way to reduce scepticism in those most hesitant towards having a jab, research suggests.
In the UK more than two-thirds of adults have received at least one dose of a Covid vaccine, with about a third having had two doses.
But while uptake in the UK has generally been high, some people remain hesitant. According to the latest figures from the Office for National Statistics, covering 31 March to 25 April, about 7% of adults in Great Britain reported being hesitant about having a Covid vaccination.
Prof Daniel Freeman, of the University of Oxford, said while most of the population appreciated the collective benefits of vaccination and were willing to be vaccinated, those who were strongly hesitant may feel there were no consequences of catching the disease, but that vaccines posed a risk to themselves.
Research from Freeman and his colleagues suggests that emphasising that vaccination can protect a person against serious illness or long Covid may be the best way to steer the most hesitant individuals towards a more positive view.
“As soon as you fear that you may get some personal harm from taking a vaccine, your decision making is dominated by personal risk,” said Freeman. “Therefore the best way to counterweight that is by highlighting personal benefit [of vaccination]”.
Writing in the journal Lancet Public Health, Freeman and his colleagues report how they recruited almost 19,000 UK adults through a market research company between 19 January and 18 February, with the sample enriched for those who were strongly hesitant towards vaccination – as determined from a question around willingness to be vaccinated.
Participants were then randomly allocated to read one of 10 brief statements about Covid vaccines. The statements ranged from those emphasising the collective benefit of the jabs, to those emphasising personal benefits, as well as a “control” message that was a simple statement from the NHS website about safety and efficacy. Participants were then asked to complete further questionnaires asking about their attitude towards being vaccinated against Covid.
The results reveal that the average level of vaccine hesitancy among those deemed willing or doubtful about Covid vaccinations was similar regardless of which statement they read.
“The people who are most sitting on the fence are still sitting on the fence,” said Freeman.
Among the strongly hesitant, some of the messages were linked to a lower level of vaccine hesitancy than the control message, in particular the message stressing the personal benefits of the jabs.
However, the effect was small: while the strongly hesitant who read the control message had a score of 28·53 on a 35-point scale of vaccine hesitancy, this was reduced to 27·04 among those who read about the personal benefits of the jab.
The researchers add that actual vaccination behaviour may differ from expressed willingness, while there may have been biases in who took part in the study, and the results may not hold for other countries. In addition, Freeman noted there were indications some messages might be received differently by different ethnic groups.
However, he said the results could still be important given the number of people who are vaccine-hesitant.
“This shows the potential of the personal benefit messaging, but of course that still needs to be amplified, and embedded and repeated,” he said.