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COVID-19 Vaccine Hesitancy Among US Adults: Safety and Effectiveness Perceptions and Messaging to Increase Vaccine Confidence and Intent to Vaccinate.

Public Health Reports 2023 November 5
OBJECTIVE: Public health agencies have a critical role in providing effective messaging about mitigation strategies during a public health emergency. The objectives of this study were (1) to understand perceptions of COVID-19 vaccines, including concerns about side effects, safety, and effectiveness and how these perceptions influence vaccine decision-making among US adults and (2) to learn what messages might motivate vaccine uptake.

METHODS: In April and May 2021, we conducted 14 online focus groups with non-Hispanic English-speaking and English- and Spanish-speaking Hispanic adults (N = 99) not vaccinated against COVID-19. We oversampled adults aged 18-39 years and rural residents and systematically assessed 10 test messages. Researchers used a standardized guide and an a priori codebook for focus group discussions, coding transcripts, and thematic analysis.

RESULTS: Vaccine hesitancy factors included fear of the unknown; long-term side effects, including infertility; and beliefs that the vaccines were developed too quickly and were not sufficiently effective. Motivating factors for receiving vaccination included the ability to safely socialize and travel. Health care providers were considered important trusted messengers. Participants were critical of most messages tested. Messages that came across as "honest" about what is not yet known about COVID-19 vaccines were perceived more positively than other messages tested. Messages were seen as ineffective if perceived as vague or lacking in data and specificity.

CONCLUSIONS: Messages that were simple and transparent about what is unknown about vaccines relative to emerging science were viewed most favorably. Health care providers, friends, and family were considered influential in vaccination decision-making. Findings underscore the benefits of research-informed strategies for developing and disseminating effective messages addressing critical issues in a public health emergency.

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