Vaccination Gets a Boost When People Know Their Neighbors are Doing It

Just as a highly transmissible variant prompts officials to extend COVID-19 emergency status, one of the largest surveys ever conducted shows people are more willing to get vaccinated when health workers reveal how many others are doing so.

The massive global survey spawned two papers — one recently published in Nature Human Behavior and another in Nature Communications—showing people greatly underestimate vaccine uptake — both worldwide and in their own communities. “Our study shows that accurate information about what most other people are doing can substantially increase intentions to accept a COVID-19 vaccine,” says Avinash Collis, co-author and assistant professor of information, risk, and operations management at The University of Texas McCombs School of Business.

Public health campaigns are more convincing when they focus on the percentage of people receiving vaccinations, as opposed to the dangers of refusing vaccination.

People all over the world severely underestimate vaccine uptake in their communities, in part because of wide coverage of vaccine hesitancy.

“But once they know that the majority has already received or are going to get the vaccine, they feel safer to get the vaccine,” says Collis.

The survey also found local health workers are the most trusted source of COVID-19 information, but in most countries, they don’t serve as public information sources. Politicians do — and they are the least trusted.

Facebook provided the survey sample and ads, yielding a record-setting 2 million responses in 67 countries.

The survey is a joint effort of The University of Texas at Austin, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Initiative on the Digital Economy, the World Health Organization, Johns Hopkins University and Meta.

Other academics are now using this data in their own vaccination research — including studies on vaccination campaigns and political trust in Latin America, understanding drivers of vaccine hesitancy in South Asia, and promoting handwashing in sub-Saharan Africa. To date, more than 40 peer-reviewed papers have been published by other research teams using this data.