Messaging Study: Breaking through vaccine hesitancy
Messaging Study: Breaking Through COVID-19 Vaccine Hesitancy

With demand for the COVID-19 vaccine leveling off in some states, vaccine hesitancy is a very hot topic right now. Here, at Lillian Labs, we’ve recently conducted a few studies looking into how to message to those who are still hesitant or opposed to getting the COVID-19 vaccine. In April, I presented findings from one of the studies we did in partnership with Boost Oregon to the Oregon Health Authority’s Immunization Policy Advisory Team (IPAT).

For immunization advocates and medical professionals, our findings provided helpful insights to better identify the demographic makeup of those who fall into the hesitant and opposition categories. We were also able to shed light on the specific barriers behind COVID vaccine hesitancy and what it might take to overcome them.

But our findings also provided some key takeaways for those of us without medical degrees. Here are a couple big ones:

Qualitative indepth interviews
When you dig down, a lot of the hesitancy is coming from the “unknowns” about the vaccines. 

Unknowns Cause Hesitancy

When you dig down, a lot of the hesitancy is coming from the “unknowns” about the vaccines. Questions like… “Were these vaccines rushed to market?” “How effective really are the vaccines and for how long?” And, “What are the long-term side effects?” …are giving people pause either because they haven’t found an answer or they are looking for more definitive answers that we just don’t have yet.

One way to address these concerns is to talk about what we do know and put it into context. An interesting fact I found that could help is that in the US, there are now more than twice as many people that have received the vaccine than have had COVID-19. So, we’ve quickly crossed a threshold where we have more data about the risks and side effects from the vaccine than we do about the virus.  

Legitimate Concerns Require Tolerance

Yeah, I heard a few crazy conspiracy theories, but much of the concerns I heard from the hesitant and opposition groups were legitimate. For example, many of these people never had a flu shot and never got the flu, so they feel more in control continuing to do what they’re doing to avoid getting COVID than they do putting a vaccine in their arm they feel uneasy about.

For many in the hesitant group, simply being presented with accurate information that addresses their concerns is enough to move them to get the vaccine—42% moved to the “On Board” group after listening to our pre-recorded messages about why they should get the vaccine.

But there’s more foundational work that needs to be done with the Opposition group before you can even talk to them about the COVID-19 vaccine. Convincing them that COVID-19 is a real threat and getting them on board with vaccines in general are two examples.

Findings from these studies aren’t a panacea to overcoming vaccine hesitancy. But they do help us better understand the challenges we face and guide us in right direction towards finding messages and methods to reach those who have chosen not to get vaccinated. 

Want to hear more? Here’s a short, follow-up interview I did after presenting the findings from our study: 

If you’re interested in reading the full summary report from the Boost Oregon study or have additional questions, please feel free to reach out. I can be reached at     


WEBINAR: Breaking Through COVID-19 Vaccine Hesitancy - Messaging Study Results
May 26, 2021 | 1:00 PM EDT (10:00 AM PDT)

Join Gina Derickson, VP of Research at qualitative research and message testing firm Lillian Labs, and Nadine Gartner, Executive Director at Boost Oregon, for a webinar highlighting the findings and outcomes of the recent study they collaborated on focused on understanding who we need to talk to, what their concerns are, and how can we effectively message to them to break through their vaccine hesitancy.