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New research finds emphasizing personal benefits and safety is likely to convince people who are vaccine hesitant. Nathan Howard/Getty Images
  • A new survey from Oxford University finds 72% of people are willing to get a COVID-19 vaccine, up from 50% just months earlier.
  • Roughly 1 in 10 people did not intend to get vaccinated.
  • The study investigates the messaging most likely to persuade people who are vaccine hesitant to get inoculated.
  • According to the study, messages emphasizing the personal benefits of being vaccinated, as well as vaccine safety, are the most effective.

All data and statistics are based on publicly available data at the time of publication. Some information may be out of date.

With COVID-19 vaccines widely available in many countries, residents who want to get vaccinated are doing so. In the United States, 59.7% of eligible adults have had at least one shot as of this writing.

A new study from the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom finds, however, that roughly 1 in 10 people have no plan to get a vaccine. For them, the perceived personal risk outweighs the importance of helping contain the disease in their communities.

According to study lead author Prof. Daniel Freeman of Oxford’s Department of Psychiatry:

“Much of the official messaging around COVID-19 vaccination draws on the idea of collective responsibility — that it benefits all of us to get the jab. For most people in the U.K., it is a message that definitely resonates. But for the significant minority of people who remain skeptical about COVID-19 vaccination, another approach may be needed.”

The researchers found that people who are vaccine hesitant are most receptive to messages emphasizing the personal benefits vaccination provides and its safety.

The research appears in The Lancet Public Health.

The Oxford Coronavirus Explanations, Attitudes, and Narratives Survey (OCEANS) III was conducted between January 19 and February 15, 2021. The researchers surveyed 18,885 U.K. adults regarding their feelings about COVID-19 vaccination.

The researchers found that 72% of the respondents were willing to be vaccinated, 17% were unsure, and 12% were strongly hesitant. This represented an improvement over the group’s October 2020 OCEANS II survey, in which just half of the participants expressed willingness to be vaccinated.

The study participants were then divided randomly into 10 groups. The first — which was the control group — was given a basic message regarding the vaccines’ medical efficacy and safety. The remaining nine received messages with the same information, but it was supplemented by descriptions of the community or personal benefits of vaccination, or by safety information meant to allay concerns about the vaccines’ rapid development.

The most effective messages were those describing the personal benefits of vaccination and the safety of the abbreviated vaccine development process, and one message that combined all of the researchers’ pro-vaccine arguments.

When the researchers resurveyed the participants after the messaging, significant attitude changes were seen only in those who most strongly opposed to being vaccinated.

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With regard to those who still oppose vaccination, Prof. Freeman suggested: “There may be two things going on here. First, if you do not trust the safety of the vaccines, you will be worried about what getting the jab will do to you.” This may be enough to dissuade people who mistakenly believe that they have no reason to be concerned about a SARS-CoV-2 infection because they do not belong to a known risk group.

“Second,” Prof. Freeman added, “we know that people who are vaccine hesitant are more likely to feel marginalized. People who feel that society does not care about them may be less likely to be receptive to messaging that relies for its effectiveness on a sense of belonging.”

Medical News Today spoke with Dr. William Schaffner, professor of medicine in the Division of Infectious Diseases at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, TN.

Dr. Schaffner said, “If you want to convince someone to get vaccinated, the most important thing — and this is something we should all have learned as children — is to treat the person with respect.

Many vaccine-hesitant individuals are concerned with issues of personal choice, according to Dr. Schaffner.

“The first thing to ask,” he suggested, “is how they feel about vaccines, and respond, ‘I have heard that from a lot of people.’ This immediately lowers their temperature.” From there, he said, you can ask them to explain — and you can then address — the specific things that they do not like about vaccines.

Dr. Schaffner finds it helpful to position vaccination as being important to the person’s family, explaining that vaccination can both help protect family members from infection and ensure that the vaccinated person remains healthy and able to care for them.

Assistant Professor Luz Maria Garcini of University of Texas Health San Antonio, who was not involved in the study, told MNT that, although mRNA vaccines are new, hesitant individuals may feel comforted knowing “the manufacturing process is not unknown and is currently used successfully in cancer treatments and the development of other vaccines (e.g., Zika, rabies, etc.).”

It remains “crucial that as many people as possible are willing to get the jab,” said Prof. Freeman, adding:

“We must remember too that COVID-19 in all its variant forms is unlikely to vanish. It will most likely be necessary to vaccinate the population on a regular and continuing basis. This high-stakes communications challenge will confront us for many years to come.”

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