In an article published in Nature Communications in January 2023, researchers from the US explored the importance of accurate information sharing in encouraging vaccine acceptance. They show through an international survey that “providing normative information in vaccine communications partially corrects individuals’ underestimation of how many other people will accept a vaccine”. Thus, accuracy about the “widespread and growing acceptance of COVID-19 vaccines helps to increase vaccination intentions”.  

Thinking bigger  

The study emphasises the critical role of behavioural responses of the public on the effectiveness of interventions in the COVID-19 pandemic. The authors suggest that while “many messaging strategies address individual barriers to vaccination”, it “might be important to look beyond individuals”. 

With the example of social networks, the paper refers to previous research, which found that “experimental variations in descriptive and injunctive norms induce substantial variation in predictions about the individual’s likelihood of engaging in preventative behaviours”. Although it is “likely” that “substantial social influence” determines acceptance of COVID-19 vaccines, the authors were unclear on how much the knowledge that others were accepting a vaccine would influence acceptance.  

“Positive peer effects can arise due to information diffusion, conformity and injunctive norms, inferring vaccine safety and effectiveness from others’ choices, or pro-social motivations such as altruism and reciprocity.” 

“On the other hand, negative effects of others’ acceptance can arise as a result of free-riding on vaccine-generated herd immunity, even if only partial or local.” 

In the study the authors use a large-scale randomised experiment embedded in an international survey. They demonstrate that “accurate information about descriptive norms” often has “positive effects on intentions to accept new vaccines for COVID-19″. In addition, they “generally rule out large negative effects of such information”.  

The study  

The survey was fielded in 67 countries in their local languages through a collaboration with Facebook and Johns Hopkins University, with “input” from WHO and the Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network. It attracted over 2 million responses and assessed knowledge about COVID-19, preventative behaviours, and economics.  The authors state that their results “across countries” suggest that “accurate normative information often increases intentions to accept COVID-19 vaccines”.  

What does the study mean for increasing vaccine uptake? The authors believe that factual normative messages are important, alongside a “range of interventions that lower real and perceived barriers to vaccination”.  

In our post on vaccine hesitancy, we explored the reasons why people might be reluctant to get their vaccine. For more on factors that influence vaccine uptake at the World Vaccine Congress in Washington this year get your tickets today.