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What Messages Are Most Effective When You Recommend the COVID-19 Vaccine?

May 16, 2023

Anyone who knows me or who has read many of my blogs knows that I am always looking for better strategies to encourage families to have their children vaccinated. I vividly remember taking care of children who were severely impacted by vaccine-preventable diseases, such as Haemophilus influenzae b, Streptococcus pneumoniae, and Neisseria meningitidis

This week, Pediatrics is early releasing an article that is right up my alley. It is entitled, “Targeted Vaccine Messaging to Promote COVID-19 Vaccines for Children and Youth,” by Marie Heffernnan, PhD and colleagues from Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine (10.1542/peds.2022-059191).

Using survey methodology, the authors tested 4 different messages with 900 Chicago parents of children who had not yet received a COVID-19 vaccine. Because prior studies testing messages regarding the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine had shown that messages that corrected misperceptions or highlighted the dangers of measles, mumps, or rubella were ineffective in increasing MMR vaccine uptake, the authors used 3 other messaging strategies:

  • Focus on the COVID-19 vaccine as being well-tolerated, with few side effects
  • Focus on the safety and testing of the COVID-19 vaccine
  • Emphasis that trusted parents are getting their children vaccinated against COVID-19

These messaging strategies were compared with a control message that provided information about when the COVID-19 vaccine was likely to be authorized for children.

Which messages were most effective?

The most effective message was the one about “trusted parents.” More than half (53.3%) of parents who heard this message stated that they were very likely to vaccinate their child. This was closely followed (49%) by the message about the vaccine being safe and thoroughly tested.

These percentages are much higher than the control group, in which 38% of parents stated that they were very likely to vaccinate their child. Messages about how well-tolerated the vaccine is were not statistically more effective than the control message.

Importantly, the messages about “trusted parents” and “safety and testing” were particularly effective in 2 groups for whom vaccine uptake has lagged: parents who are Black, and parents who themselves have not yet been vaccinated.

Please read this article, and in particular, read the specifics about the messages that were given to the parents in this study. Think about how you can incorporate messaging about trusted parents and safety and testing into your vaccine counseling to improve COVID-19 vaccine uptake.

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