What’s the best way to persuade the millions of Americans who still haven’t been vaccinated against Covid-19 to get vaccinated?
Reassuring public service announcements about the vaccine’s safety and efficacy have multiplied. But more and more people are realizing that it will take more than just information to influence the hesitant.
In recent randomized survey experiments conducted by the UCLA Covid-19 Health and Politics project, two apparently strong incentives have emerged.
About a third of the unvaccinated population said that a cash payment would make them more likely to be vaccinated. This suggests that some governors may be on the right track; West Virginia Governor Jim Justice, for example, recently announced that the state will give young people $ 100 bonds if they get vaccinated.
Likewise, a sharp increase in willingness to take vaccines appeared among those who were asked to be vaccinated if that meant they would not need to wear a mask or social distancing in public, compared to to a group who have been told they need it again. do these things.
The ongoing UCLA project has surveyed more than 75,000 people in the past 10 months. This collaboration between doctors and social scientists at UCLA and Harvard measures people’s experiences and attitudes towards the pandemic across political and economic dimensions, while painting a picture of their physical and mental health and their well-being.
To assess the effectiveness of different messages about vaccine use, the project randomly assigns unvaccinated respondents to groups who see different information about the benefits of vaccination. The random assignment makes the composition of each group similar. This is important because it allows researchers to conclude that any difference that emerges between groups in people’s intentions to get the vaccine is a result of the messages each group saw and not other underlying attributes.
Last October, a group saw posts that presented the benefits of vaccination in a self-interested way – “It will protect you“- while others saw posts that framed the benefits in a more social way:” This will protect you and those around you. The subtle change didn’t do much; about two-thirds of people in both groups said they intended to be vaccinated.
Another experiment investigated the persuasive power of certain mentions. The promoters included prominent figures such as then President Donald J. Trump and Dr Anthony Fauci, but also more personal medical sources such as “your doctor”.
Most of the effects were minimal. Telling people that their doctor, pharmacist, or insurer believed the vaccine to be safe and effective had no noticeable effect on vaccination intentions, although Dr. Fauci’s approval increased the likelihood of adoption by about six points. percentage.
Support from political figures drew strong partisan backlash, with Mr. Trump’s endorsement decreasing adoption among Democrats in 2020 and increasing adoption by Republicans to a lesser extent. President Biden’s endorsement decreased adoption among Republicans in 2021. There were indications in 2021 that an endorsement from Trump could further increase adoption among Republicans, but the effects were much weaker than when he was in power.
Last month, researchers randomly assigned unvaccinated respondents to see messages about financial incentives. Some people were asked about the chances of getting a vaccine if it came with a cash payment of $ 25; other people were asked to receive $ 50 or $ 100.
About a third of the unvaccinated population said that a cash payment would make them more likely to be vaccinated. The benefits were greatest for those in the $ 100 group, which increased willpower (34% said they would get the shot) by six points compared to the $ 25 group.
The effect was greatest for unvaccinated Democrats, 48% of whom said they would be more likely to get the vaccine if it came with a payment of $ 100.
Some previous research shows that paying for vaccines can backfire, and in the UCLA study, about 15% of unvaccinated people report a decrease in willingness to vaccinate due to the payments. But at this later stage of a vaccination campaign – when attention has now turned to the hesitant – the bottom line seems to tip toward the payoff.
The urge to stop wearing a mask and social distancing in public has also had a strong result. On average, mask loosening and social distancing guidelines increased the likelihood of vaccination by 13 points. The biggest gains came from Republicans, who reported an 18 point increase in willingness to be vaccinated.
These results show both the difficulty of getting the remaining unvaccinated people to clinics and the promise of efforts to do so. While most of the message effects were small, monetary payments seem to motivate Democrats, and easing cautionary guidelines seem to work for Republicans. (The CDC recently relaxed the guidelines on wearing masks outdoors for those who have been vaccinated.)
The movement towards vaccination among the hesitant may accelerate over time and as people observe the consequences of vaccination in those who have been vaccinated for the first time. When we asked unvaccinated people why they hadn’t tried getting the vaccine, 38% said they were worried about side effects and 34% said they didn’t think the vaccine was safe. Persuasion efforts that demonstrate the shortness of side effects, or their absence, and the safety of inoculation can allay these fears. Yet a quarter of unvaccinated people say they do not trust the government’s motives, and 14% say Covid-19 is not a threat to them. These people will be more difficult to convince.
Data from the project shows how eager Americans are to resume normal activities. Among people who work outside their home, 76% of survey respondents said they wanted to return to work as they did before the pandemic, and 66% said they thought it was safe to do it from April. These figures are similar regardless of vaccination status.
The April survey also asked people what types of social activities they had engaged in in the past two weeks. About 30 percent reported eating at a restaurant; 17 percent said they attended a religious gathering in person; and 11 percent encountered a group of more than 10 non-family members. Almost everything took place inside.
Vaccination rates among people who engage in these activities largely mirror the rates in the population, which means that not all who are on the move have received the vaccine.
Of those who ate at restaurants, 32% reported being fully vaccinated (53% said they had not been vaccinated at all). The balance among people attending in-person religious gatherings was roughly equal – 41% said they were fully vaccinated and 41% said they had not been vaccinated at all.
Most people attending social gatherings with more than 10 non-family members were not fully immunized, although the proportion of people vaccinated was higher for indoor gatherings (40 percent) than for outdoor activities. outside (27 percent).
People are venturing into social spaces, but around them unvaccinated people still outnumber those vaccinated in most places – and vaccination rates are slowing. To reverse this trend, it will take more than passionate calls from politicians, friends or medical professionals. Offering real rewards beyond the health benefits of the vaccine may be necessary.
Lynn Vavreck, Marvin Hoffenberg Professor of American Politics and Public Policy at UCLA, is co-author of “Identity Crisis: The 2016 Presidential Campaign and the Battle for the Meaning of America.” Follow her on Twitter at @vavreck. She is also a principal investigator of the UCLA Covid-19 Health and Politics project, along with Arash Naeim, Neil Wenger and Annette Stanton at UCLA’s David Geffen School of Medicine as well as Karen Sepucha of Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School.