Researchers have proposed a series of behavioral strategies that, they believe, would encourage people to get vaccinated against COVID-19.
In a new article, a team of researchers has proposed five strategies to encourage immunization against COVID-19 that they hope the United States government will implement.
In the Viewpoint article, published in the journal JAMA, the team argues that the U.S. needs a national strategy similar in scope to Operation Warp Speed to ensure that as many residents as possible are vaccinated.
Recent evidence of the efficacy and safety of a number of in-development COVID-19 vaccines has provided hope that the pandemic may soon end.
However, first, people must be willing to receive the vaccine.
A survey from September 2020 found that only about half of U.S. adults were definitely or probably willing to be vaccinated.
A quarter were probably not willing, and just under a quarter would not get the vaccine, according to the participants’ responses.
The survey revealed that a key anxiety concerns the speed at which the new vaccines were developed. Many may wonder whether corners have been cut in testing for safety.
This is not the case: According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the vaccines have undergone rigorous safety testing, and monitoring for adverse effects will continue.
Nonetheless, pervasive safety concerns could dissuade significant numbers from getting vaccinated — delaying the achievement of herd immunity and extending the amount of time that people are at risk of COVID-19.
Another issue is access. If getting vaccinated is difficult — due to limited sites of vaccination or issues of cost — this may prevent immunization for many people.
To help address these concerns, the researchers behind the present article have proposed five strategies that, they say, should be at the heart of the U.S. vaccination program.
First, the researchers propose that the vaccine should be free and easily accessible.
Even a small charge may put people off receiving the vaccine, and vaccinating at a variety of locations may reduce “hassle factors” that can act as a barrier.
Second, the researchers suggest making access to valued locations or services dependent on being vaccinated.
For example, if a person needs to be vaccinated to enter a workplace, communal living facility, or even a movie theater, this could go a long way toward normalizing the immunization.
Third, the researchers propose that the vaccines should be endorsed by trusted leaders.
This might involve heads of businesses, trusted politicians, and celebrities publicly receiving the vaccine. The researchers believe that this tactic would be more effective than simply instructing the people to get immunized.
Fourth, the researchers suggest that priority access be given to people who sign up for the immunization early.
They highlight marketing research indicating that people desire a product more if they perceive it to be scarce or believe that others will access it before they can.
Fifth, the researchers propose that vaccination be presented as a public act.
In practicality, this might be similar to wearing a sticker to indicate having voted or given blood, or posting about it on social media. The reasoning behind this call for visibility, the researchers explain, is that our behavior often follows the behavior of others.
In addition to these five strategies, the researchers recommend that authorities present vaccination as just one part of the general response to the pandemic, which also involves social distancing, mask wearing, and hand washing.
If a vaccine is seen as the sole “savior,” people may take unwise risks after receiving it, the team explains.
Finally, the researchers suggest that a nonpolitical national entity, similar to Project Warp Speed, be created to ensure that vaccination occurs quickly and in a coordinated way.
This council would also ensure that the drive to vaccinate has coherent, consistent messaging and provides transparent information about the vaccines’ safety and efficacy.
According to the senior author of the article, Prof. Alison M. Buttenheim, of the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing, in Philadelphia:
“This entity should include scientists from multiple disciplines (epidemiology, vaccine science, behavioral science, social marketing, communications), as well as vaccine program delivery experts.”
“The team should represent a spectrum of political views to depoliticize pandemic response,” Prof. Buttenheim adds.
The researchers emphasize that while the development of vaccines is crucial, their widespread use is also key to ending the pandemic.
The team concludes that “The potential for these vaccines to help halt the pandemic will be limited without comparable attention paid to traversing the behavioral ‘last mile’ necessary to ensure vaccine acceptance and uptake.”