Academic study calls for targeted messaging to tackle vaccine hesitancy in low-uptake groups

Targeted messaging is needed to tackle Covid-19 vaccine hesitancy in groups where uptake is low, according to new research.

A survey of almost 5,000 UK adults found that reluctance to have the vaccine was a particular issue in non-white British ethnic groups, younger adults, and those with lower levels of education.

People suffering greater financial hardship and those who believe that they have already had the virus were also more hesitant to take up the jab.

The survey, conducted in January and February 2021, found that while 87% of white British participants had accepted or intended to get the vaccine, this fell significantly in other ethnic groups, with 58% acceptance in black/black British groups, 61% in mixed/multiple ethnic groups and 61% among Asian/Asian British groups.

The research, led by the University of Stirling, found that the likelihood of acceptance also increased with age, with those aged 50-59 more likely than the 18-49 age group to indicate acceptance.

Researchers said decision-makers must use tailored messaging to persuade hesitant groups to be vaccinated.

Martine Stead (pictured), director of the university’s Institute for Social Marketing and Health (ISMH), who led the study, said: “Our research provides a new and important insight into vaccine hesitancy – and this is a vital issue because it can threaten comprehensive vaccination in populations.

“We considered vaccine intentions of almost 5,000 UK adults in the early stages of the vaccine rollout and explored important issues, such as the factors behind acceptance and trust in information sources.

“The results indicate that targeted engagement is required to address vaccine hesitancy in non-white British ethnic groups, in younger adults, and among those with lower education, greater financial hardship and unconfirmed past infection.

“Healthcare professionals and scientific advisers should play a central role in communications – as they are regarded as the most trusted – and tailored messaging is needed for hesitant groups. Work is also needed to rebuild trust in government information.”

The survey of 4,978 adults was conducted just weeks after the vaccine rollout got under way in December 2020.

In recent months vaccinations around the UK have been offered in locations including mosques, nightclubs, sporting venues and shopping centres as part of moves to encourage more people to get their jab.

Latest figures published on Monday November 1 show that 86.9% of people aged 12 and over in the UK have had a first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, 79.5% have had a second dose and 14.1% have had a booster or third dose.

The University of Stirling research team considered participants’ sociodemographic characteristics – including age, gender, ethnicity, education and financial status, vaccine acceptance, Covid-19 status and trust in vaccination information sources.

At the time of the study, just 14% of participants had been offered the vaccine – with 92% of those having already accepted or stating that they intended to accept while 4% had refused or intended to refuse.

Among those who had not yet been offered the vaccine, 82% intended to accept, 11% were uncertain and 7% indicated that they would refuse.

Overall – combining both decisions and intentions – the acceptance level was 83%, with 10% uncertain and 7% refusing.

The study found that participants educated to at least degree level were three times as likely, and those educated to A-level or equivalent were nearly twice as likely to indicate acceptance, compared with those without qualifications.

Researchers also found that people who thought they probably or definitely had already contracted Covid-19 were less likely to indicate acceptance.

The study, published in BMJ Open, also involved University College London Great Ormond Street Institute for Child Health and St George’s University of London Population Health Research Institute.

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “Ensuring Scotland’s vaccination programme is inclusive is a priority, and we are committed to offering a vaccine to everyone in Scotland.

“We are working to address vaccine hesitancy to improve uptake.

“We use insight and evidence to address the concerns of the vaccine-hesitant.

“Following on from our ‘Roll Up Your Sleeves’ national marketing campaign encouraging vaccine uptake, we addressed these people specifically, with targeted media and shared assets, with health board colleagues and the many stakeholder groups that represent the interests of vaccine-hesitant groups.

“All NHS boards have dedicated inclusion plans within the vaccination programme, outlining how they will actively offer vaccination to people who may face barriers in taking up the vaccine.

“Some examples of outreach include offering vaccinations in places of worship, in other community settings, providing concessionary bus travel to appointments and working with community leaders to promote uptake.

“Campaign activity included radio and digital that ran from July-August 2021, including a Covid-19 explainer film that specifically addressed concerns including safety, efficacy, religion, pregnancy and fertility.”

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “Our phenomenal vaccination programme continues at speed with almost 9 in 10 people aged 12 and over receiving at least one dose and more than 8 million people across the UK getting a booster vaccination or third dose.

“The UK has one of the highest Covid-19 vaccine uptake rates in the world and we are working closely with the NHS to make it as easy as possible to get a vaccine, including through mobile vaccination centres and ‘grab a jab’ pop-up vaccine sites across the country.

“We’re working with the NHS to provide advice and information at every opportunity on how to get a vaccine and its benefits – including through partnerships with clinicians, vaccine experts, social media platforms, local authorities, faith groups and business.”

Copyright (c) PA Media Ltd. 2021, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) University of Stirling.