Analysis: research into vaccine hesitancy found that peer social influences and messaging play a key role in decision making

By Jane Walsh, NUI Galway and Susanna Kola-Palmer, University of Huddersfield

Although Covid-19 vaccines are a powerful tool in the control of the devastating pandemic, the public's confidence in and willingness to receive the vaccines will determine the outcome of this mass-scale public health programme. While vaccinations are moving at pace in both Ireland and the UK, recent indicators from government public opinion surveys suggest that there is still a significant amount of vaccine hesitancy in the general public.

According to the WHO, vaccine hesitancy refers to a delay in acceptance or refusal of a vaccine despite its availability. Vaccine hesitancy is complex and context-specific, and it varies across time, place and vaccines. Behavioural science has greatly contributed to understanding and addressing the psychological factors that influence our vaccination behaviour. Since the onset of the pandemic behavioural scientists have played a key role in addressing the enormous shifts in behaviour required by the public to combat the devastating effect of this virus, summarised in this insightful piece by Prof Molly Byrne.

We need your consent to load this rte-player contentWe use rte-player to manage extra content that can set cookies on your device and collect data about your activity. Please review their details and accept them to load the content.Manage Preferences

From RTÉ Radio 1's Ray D'Arcy Show, author Heidi J. Larson on her new book Stuck about vaccine hesitancy

Understanding vaccine hesitancy is key to addressing public concerns, promoting confidence and increasing vaccine uptake. The Vaccine Hesitancy Study conducted by NUI Galway in collaboration with University of Huddersfield, set out to investigate the underlying causes of vaccine hesitancy via online survey of over 1,000 people (between January and March 2021) in Ireland and the UK.

The study found that people were more likely to want the vaccine if they had strong trust in authorities and were satisfied with government handling of the pandemic. A striking finding of this research was, that young women in particular, were less likely to say 'yes' to the vaccine and more likely to say they were 'unsure' about getting it.

While the specific reasons for vaccine hesitancy were not explored in this research, the findings sparked widespread debate in the media. A recent article citing expert opinions, suggested that concerns about fertility and lack of trust in the government were the most likely barriers to vaccination.

These findings are supported by international research suggesting that mistrust of governments and public health agencies was related to lower vaccination acceptance, whereas social influences such as peer-to-peer/group norms may encourage vaccination. Recent research in the UK supports these assertions and has developed an evidence-based digital intervention in an attempt to combat vaccine misinformation.

We need your consent to load this rte-player contentWe use rte-player to manage extra content that can set cookies on your device and collect data about your activity. Please review their details and accept them to load the content.Manage Preferences

From RTÉ Radio 1's Drivetime, Dr Jane Walsh on research which found that women under 30 are less likely to accept a Covid-19 vaccine

The impact of peer social influences on vaccination hesitancy in young women was also a significant finding in the Vaccine Hesitancy Study. It may therefore be the case that 'social influencers' have an impact on young people’s decision to accept the vaccine. The authors cautioned that willingness to have the Covid vaccine is far less likely to be driven by fear messaging, but rather by developing a stronger message of trust in the government and health authorities.

Roisin Ingle’s recent article in the Irish Times article suggested that many people are afraid to discuss their vaccine concerns publicly for fear of stigma and ridicule. But according to the WHO, vaccine hesitancy is a legitimate position, highlighting flaws or failures in public health messaging. This is something that needs to be addressed as a matter of urgency.

We need your consent to load this comcast-player contentWe use comcast-player to manage extra content that can set cookies on your device and collect data about your activity. Please review their details and accept them to load the content.Manage Preferences

From RTÉ Brainstorm, Dr Conor O'Mahony on UCC asks if a mandatory vaccination law would be constitutional

It is clear that vaccine communication cannot take a "one size fits all" approach. Effective communication must also be tailored to the community’s values and priorities and come from trusted messengers. The UK National Institutes of Health's guidelines on Covid-19 vaccination state that the perspectives of the intended audience, including concerns, motivations, values, and information needs, must be considered to develop the most effective, trustworthy, and equitable communication strategies.

It is clear that significant measures must be taken to address the concerns of young women as a matter of priority. The research findings will be presented this week to the Behavioural Change Subgroup that advises Ireland's National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet).

Dr Jane Walsh is a Senior Lecturer in the School of Psychology and director of the Mobile Technology and Health (mHealth) Research Group at NUI Galway. Dr Susanna Kola-Palmer is a Senior Lecturer in Psychology and the Associate Director of the Quantitative Research Methods Training Unit (QRM-TU) at the School of Human and Health Sciences at the University of Huddersfield.


The views expressed here are those of the author and do not represent or reflect the views of RTÉ