Study Finds What Persuaded Vaccine-Hesitant People to Get COVID Jab

Scientists have discovered through a new study what eventually persuaded people to get vaccinated against COVID-19 after previously saying they were "hesitant" to get jabbed.

The research from the University of Kansas found that "conversion messages" were one of the most effective tools in convincing people to get vaccinated. This was in contrast to "one-sided" messages of advocacy. Conversion messages consisted of people describing someone who had been vaccine-hesitant and then changed their mind.

The study was undertaken in late 2020 and 2021–a time when COVID-19 vaccines were in the process of receiving approval—and aimed at testing how effective different communication tools were in convincing people to get jabbed.

The findings—published by co-authors at Penn State University Michelle Baker, Bingbing Zhang, Heather Shoenberger, Fuyuan Shen and Jeff Conlin—were published in the medical journal Health Communication.

A study has revealed what communication method persuaded vaccine-hesitant people to get jabbed. Above, a stock image of COVID-19 vaccination vials. -slav-/Getty Images

Participants were asked to take a survey, describing whether or not they were hesitant to get vaccinated. Each participant was then asked to read one of three conversion messages or one of three one-sided messages. They were asked for their opinion on source credibility, counterargument, and once again, their hesitation towards getting vaccinated.

The participants asked to read a conversion message were given a story about a person named Jamie, who had originally been doubtful about receiving the COVID-19 vaccine. The story described Jamie talking with her medically trained brother-in-law, who assured Jamie that the vaccinations were safe. Jamie then no longer felt doubtful about receiving the vaccination.

According to Conlin, Jamie had an "initial hesitancy" that matched the feelings of the participants. Because of this, the study found that people who were more seriously opposed to receiving the vaccine found "source credibility" in the conversion message. This, in turn, changed their attitudes towards being vaccinated.

Overall, the results concluded that conversion messages were more effective in encouraging pro-vaccine attitudes in individuals who were initially "high in vaccine hesitancy" going into the study.

In a press release on the findings, Conlin said that conversion messages leading to "pro-vaccine attitudes" was the "biggest takeaway of the research."

"Our findings show that these types of health messages are not a one-size-fits-all solution to encourage everyone to get vaccinated for COVID-19. Designing and using conversion messages requires a matching of psychological states between the source of the message and the audience exposed to the message," he said.

"...We knew the vaccines were on the horizon and the concept of vaccine hesitancy was likely to play a role in uptake because it has in other contexts...If someone is high in hesitancy, they're less motivated to get vaccinated, which has implications on public health, so we wanted to look at that idea and test the persuasive effects of conversion messages in this emerging context."

While further research is needed to fully understand what communication method works most effectively, it's a start.

As the study was undertaken while the vaccines were being developed, scientists believe another one will be needed to assess those who continue to be hesitant now that vaccinations are widely available. This would also assess the effects of the media, which have since promoted more information about the vaccines.