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BYU Researchers: Messaging Surrounding COVID-19 Vaccine ‘Vital’


PROVO, Utah – A COVID-19 vaccine is largely viewed as America’s best opportunity to return to life as normal, but with a high percentage of Americans resistant to vaccines, researchers at Brigham Young University believe the messaging will be critical when a safe COVID-19 vaccine is available.

“I think it’s really important as we roll this vaccine out that we know specifically what factors should be targeted,” said Jamie Jensen, Ph.D.,m a professor of biology with BYU, and co-author of the study.

The widespread acceptance of a COVID-19 vaccine will be vital to our country’s recovery from a public health standpoint and an economic standpoint. The study, published in the journal Vaccines, shows that educational messaging will matter when a vaccine campaign begins.

“Vaccines work the best when lots of people take them. The more people who take the vaccine, the better it works,” said Brian Poole, Ph.D., professor of microbiology and molecular biology at BYU, and senior author of the study.

The biology and molecular biology researchers from BYU decided to find out what factors either motivate or detract people from taking a COVID-19 vaccine.

They made two main discoveries: one of them expected, the other a surprise.

“People who were previously kind of anti-vaccine continue to be anti-COVID vaccine,” said Poole. “People who were previously pro-vaccine continue to be to be more pro-vaccine.”

They expected that.

The report showed that only 68 percent of respondents are ready for a COVID-19 vaccine. Concerns remained about side effects, sufficient vaccine testing, and effectiveness.

Unexpectedly, one of the major predictors of whether you are willing to take a COVID-19 vaccine is how you feel the virus is affecting our country.

”People are patriotic. People care about other people. They care about the country. They want the country to get back to normal,” said Poole.

Respondents who said the pandemic was a severe problem for America were much more likely to choose to be vaccinated for COVID-19.

Surprisingly, in today’s political climate, the researchers found no causal relationship between political ideology and attitudes toward a COVID-19 vaccine.

“I think it’s unexpected because it seems like lately everything is political, and there’s been a lot of politicization of this vaccine in particular,” said Poole. “When we did our survey, politics didn’t really matter.”

“That was shocking,” Jensen agreed.

While the virus itself, and masks have been politicized, that does not seem to affect attitudes towards a vaccine.

“We had a question on there that asked their political affiliation from extremely conservative to extremely liberal, and it’s just not a factor,” said Jensen. “There was no relationship between that and their uptake of the vaccine.”

Understanding why people are hesitant about vaccines can help an education campaign when a vaccine is available. If resistance to a COVID-19 vaccine is based more on its effectiveness and safety than politics, that’s where a rollout campaign could focus the message.

“If they’re worried about the health of America in general, we need to emphasize that vaccines aren’t just for you and your own health, but they protect all of the citizens around you,” said Jensen.

According to their research, the most important message to ease the public’s hesitancy towards vaccines is to focus on how vaccines work and how safe they are.

“There are so many things we can try to educate the public about. It turns out, it’s just vaccines in general: how they work and getting people over that hesitancy that seems to be the most predictive factor on getting people to take the COVID-19 vaccine,” said Jensen.

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