In early 2021, I began working on a messaging study, in partnership with the non-profit organization Boost Oregon, whose mission is to help people make informed decisions about immunization by ensuring they have access to science-backed information. As you may have expected given the timeframe, the study was focused on the COVID-19 vaccine, with the goal of providing Boost Oregon with research-based messaging recommendations that would support its efforts to communicate accurate information about the vaccine to those who were hesitant about getting vaccinated.
Our initial phase of the study, completed in March 2021, focused on messaging to adults who were hesitant or resistant to getting vaccinated. You can read more about those findings here.
Our second phase, completed in early November 2021, focused on parents of children ages 5 – 11 that were still “on the fence” about getting their child/children vaccinated. What we heard from the 230 parents who participated in the study was that this was a very difficult decision that they were really struggling with. Unknowns about the long-term effects of both the virus and the pediatric vaccine, and conflicting information/misinformation were contributing to the challenge.
Here’s what these parents told us were 3 keys things they wanted to hear before making their decision about vaccinating their child:
PARENTS ARE HUNGRY FOR INFORMATION
Let’s start with what was likely the most unexpected finding of this phase of the study. We dial tested five, distinct themes that focused on vaccinating children against COVID-19. The themes were: 1) the physical risks of COVID-19; 2) the emotional and psychological risks of COVID-19; 3) the benefits of the pediatric COVID-19 vaccines to children and families; 4) the benefits of the pediatric COVID-19 vaccine to communities; and 5) the safety and effectiveness of the pediatric COVID-19 vaccine. We asked the parents in our study to listen to short (1 -2 min) audio recordings covering each theme and use Dialsmith’s online dial to continuous rate whether what they were hearing made them more likely or less likely to vaccinate their child against COVID-19.
In the message testing business, we’re generally trying to zero in on the one message as the clear winner. But here, we found that the parents felt they really benefitted from listening to all five of the messages we tested and each was at least moderately effectively at moving the parents towards being more likely to vaccinate. This meshes with parents also telling us they feel they’re not getting all the information they need to make a fully informed decision.
PARENTS WANT TO HEAR THE VACCINE IS “SAFE AND EFFECTIVE”
The dial testing we did allowed us to evaluate messaging feedback on a very granular level, so we also were able to see that parents responded very positively to the descriptor, “safe and effective” when used in conjunction with the pediatric vaccine. In two separate messages, we saw the dial lines dramatically go up (indicating that parents are more likely to have their child vaccinated) when they heard those words used to describe the vaccine.
The Oregon Public Health Division recently released this PSA using the “safe and effective” descriptor. Based on our research, we approve!
PARENTS WANT TO KNOW THAT THE VACCINE WILL WORK FOR THEIR CHILD (NOT JUST CHILDREN AGES 5 – 11)
Finally, the parents in our study see their child as being unique and special; in everything… from their age, to their health, even to the activities they’re involved in. They want assurances that their child’s “uniqueness” is represented by the demographics and characteristics of the children that have been safely vaccinated, including those in the clinical trial.
Here’s an HHS ad that does a pretty good job by including a wide mix of demographics with the children they’re featuring. We see a good range of ages, races and other characteristics. Good bet a parent could see someone who reminds them of their child in this video.
Also, while the pediatric vaccine is targeted at children ages 5 – 11, parents don’t view children in that age range as all being the same. In fact, a parent we interviewed who has children at both ends of that age range said she will make separate vaccine decisions for each of her children.
HEAR MORE ABOUT OUR FINDINGS
We recently presented all our key findings from this study as well as recommendations on messaging and resources in a webinar we hosted in partnership with Boost Oregon and Families Fighting Flu. You can watch the full recording of the presentation below. And if you have additional questions or would like to discuss messaging questions you have around the COVID-19 vaccine, please reach out.