Researchers publish recommendations for using behavioral science to increase vaccine uptake

Image of woman preparing vaccine
Matt Gibson/File
The COVID-19 Vaccination Uptake Behavioral Science Task Force report contains a wide range of interventions to encourage vaccine uptake based on social science and large-scale demographic research.

Related Posts

With significantly lower vaccine uptake among long-term care facility, or LTCF, employees, the COVID-19 Vaccination Uptake Behavioral Science Task Force report was released Feb. 23 to provide recommendations to increase vaccination rates.

The task force was co-chaired by UC Berkeley Haas School of Business professor Jennifer Chatman and University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School professor Sigal Barsade. Beyond targeting LTCF staff, the task force aims to provide crucial insight for any organization hoping to increase vaccination rates.

After launching the Pharmacy Partnership for Long-Term Care program, which administered vaccinations to residents and staff at over 63,000 LTCFs, the Centers for Disease Control, or CDC, found that only 37.5% of LTCF staff chose to receive one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, compared to 77.8% of residents, according to the report.

“We believe that vaccine uptakepeople’s willingness to take the vaccineis more of a psychological than medical issue,” Chatman said in an email. “Thus, we believe that a team of top psychologists may have an important perspective to offer the medical teams that have worked so hard to develop and distribute the amazing, perhaps civilization saving covid vaccine.”

According to Chatman, the report contains a wide range of interventions to encourage vaccine uptake based on social science and large-scale demographic research. Recommendations include offering time off for vaccination appointments, providing testimonials from peers and considering having “qualified peers” inject the vaccine.

One of the most significant findings, according to Barsade, is the need to focus interventions on the three subgroups of the “movable middle.” These are individuals who are somewhat hesitant to vaccination but are likely to change their minds, according to the report.

To influence the subgroup closest to vaccine acceptors, it is crucial to eliminate structural obstacles and simplify the vaccination process, according to Barsade. The subgroup in the center of the movable middle requires more social influence and motivation, which entails carefully selecting who delivers messages regarding the vaccine according to the audience.

Finally, for individuals who are most reluctant, it may be helpful to supplement information campaigns with “peer-to-peer conversations” in order to build trust in vaccine safety, according to the report.

“For those of us who believe in science and understand that the benefits of the covid vaccine far outweigh the risks, the choice seems obvious,” Chatman said in an email. “But, if a substantial percentage of our population decides not to take the vaccine, there are two profound risks.”

One of the potential risks is the effect of mutations, which could allow the spread of COVID-19 to outpace vaccine distribution. Another risk is that “sufficient levels of immunity” will not be reached on time, leaving the unvaccinated population at risk of health problems and death, Chatman added.

According to Barsade, LTCFs have begun to spread the report among their members and the task force hopes to disseminate their findings more broadly.

“We spend a lot of time carefully creating knowledge that we test so that it will then be applicable. The whole point in generating knowledge is to have it be useful and practical,” Barsade said. “There’s no better use for our knowledge than that right now.”

Contact Serene Chang at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @_serenechang .