By Jacquie Norton
As a parent of young children, I am no stranger to vaccination. Regular nurse visits, complete with lollipops and bubbles, have been a fact of life for our family for the past few years. I (like many others) have been watching on with interest as the COVID-19 vaccine rolls out in Australia.
The rapid development of the COVID-19 vaccine disrupts our existing expectations for vaccine roll-out. Childhood and travel vaccines have been around for many years. This longevity and familiarity provide a sense of comfort and reassurance that we (and our family members) are unlikely to suffer any major adverse side effects. Critical to encouraging COVID-19 vaccine take-up will be establishing trust in the integrity of the development and testing process.
Another major challenge in achieving widespread vaccination is that the risk presented by COVID-19 has dropped considerably in Australia. Regular periods of no community transmission and prompt action to suppress outbreaks has us feeling cautiously comfortable. But this can also make vaccination against COVID-19 seem less urgent.
Despite high rates of childhood vaccination in Australia, vaccination is a topic that has often divided us – and the COVID-19 vaccine is no exception. According to Quantum’s weekly insights tracker – AustraliaNOW, in March 2021 47% of Australians indicated that they would be very likely to get vaccinated against COVID-19, 28% somewhat likely and 25% unlikely.
Analysis into these groups reveals a fragmented picture. As is so often the case when approaching behavioural challenges, a one-size-fits all approach to addressing vaccine hesitancy is unlikely to be effective.
Tackling hesitancy: Meet them where they are
Just as our immune systems are strengthened when challenged, often so are our beliefs. Research conducted in the US in 2014 tested the effectiveness of messages designed to reduce vaccine misperceptions and increase vaccination rates for measles-mumps-rubella (MMR). It found that efforts to reduce misconceptions about vaccines had the reverse effect. Instead of encouraging uptake, they reinforced existing beliefs – further decreasing vaccination intentions among vaccine-hesitant parents.
This example illustrates that when approaching a group with strongly held beliefs, it is necessary to take the time upfront to get to know the audience. Only then can an approach be developed that respects the existing belief set and starts a dialogue and journey to change.
Scaling change: Snowballing early social proof
A recent article in Behavioral Scientist revealed a fascinating approach to scaling behaviour change among farmers. Through segmenting Colombian farmers along a resistance-to-ambiguity continuum, they designed a program to reach each of the resulting subgroups at different stages. They used the initial ‘low-resistance’ subgroup to achieve and promote early wins, create social proof to influence remaining farmers and to build community-level norms.
Based on their early results, they believe that snowballing early success stories could be a useful tool to help promote positive behavioural changes in other information-ambiguous, high-stakes environments.
Averting complacency: The last mile nudge
Whilst a high proportion of Australians intend to be vaccinated against COVID-19, we know that complacency can hijack the best of intentions. A recent study led by Katy Milkman and colleagues looked at how to encourage those who want the vaccine to actually receive it. They found that simple communications that told individuals a flu shot was “waiting” or “reserved” for them proved most effective, boosting vaccination rates by up to 11%. This is a valuable insight for shaping the delivery side of the vaccine.
Hurdles in the roll-out of the COVID-19 vaccines in Australia are getting a lot of press right now. But the logistics are only the first step in a broader challenge. There is a need to think about how we encourage participation to get the majority of Australians vaccinated. As the Health Minister Greg Hunt has remarked: “The battle isn’t over, but now we’re armed.” The months ahead will give us a sense of the extent to which Australians will embrace the next major step towards fighting COVID-19.
Quantum has conducted research into vaccination intentions through the COVID-19 pandemic and tackled many other behavioural challenges. If you would like to get a deeper understanding of your audience, please reach out to the team.