AUSTIN, Texas — One of the largest international surveys ever conducted shows people are more willing to get a COVID-19 vaccination when they are told about how many other people in their community plan to get one.
The global survey, which appeared in two research papers, one recently published in Nature Human Behavior and another in Nature Communications, showed that people greatly underestimate vaccine acceptance — 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,” said Avinash Collis, co-author and assistant professor of information, risk and operations management in the McCombs School of Business at The University of Texas. “But once people know that the majority has already received or are going to get the vaccine, they feel safer to get the vaccine.”
Collis and researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Initiative on the Digital Economy fielded a survey of nationally representative samples of Facebook users from July 2020 to March 2021. Facebook provided the survey sample and placed survey ads in the users’ newsfeeds. More than 2 million responses in 67 countries make it one of the largest academic social science surveys ever conducted.
The survey found that public health campaigns are more convincing when they focus on the percentage of people receiving vaccinations, as opposed to the dangers of refusing vaccination. The survey also found local health workers are the most trusted source of COVID-19 information, but in most countries, they do not serve as public information sources. Politicians do and they are the least trusted.
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 hand-washing in sub-Saharan Africa. To date, more than 40 peer reviewed papers have been published by other research teams using this data.
The research was a joint effort by researchers at UT Austin, MIT’s Initiative on the Digital Economy, the World Health Organization, Johns Hopkins University and Meta.
Read the McCombs Big Ideas story.