Analysis of online conversations paints a picture of vaccine confidence

London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine

Messages focusing on personal choice rather than moral obligations receive a more positive response on social media

A new report based on analysis of people’s conversations about vaccination on social media and websites provides a range of insights to help increase our understanding of what drives confidence in vaccines.

The report was conducted by the World Economic Forum and analytics platform NetBase Quid, with expert support from the Vaccine Confidence Project at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine.

The analysis ran for a six-month period to April 2021 and involved analysing publicly available content from news media and social media.

The five key findings in the report are:

  • Protection is the top concern: The most compelling reason that people publicly identify for being vaccinated is the ‘protection’ offered by the vaccine. Protection is referenced at least five times as often as other words.
  • Backlash for moral messaging: Messages that focus on a moral responsibility to get vaccinated, especially coming from visible public figures, can result in a sharp backlash.
  • Personal gratitude: Responses to images and simple messages around ‘gratitude’ received the most positive responses. Positive communications from health professionals and social media influencers were more effective than those from other groups, particularly politicians.
  • Low confidence and low trust: People expressing low vaccine confidence appear to align with two broad groups: one group with low confidence in components of the vaccine system, such as the government or pharmaceutical companies, and one group with concerns about how the vaccine will affect their own personal health.
  • Overall concern: People online rarely distinguish between the types of vaccines, but rather express general concerns that ‘the vaccine’ doesn’t work or is not guaranteed to protect you from COVID-19.

The paper also outlines some of the key drivers of vaccine confidence that underpin these findings, such as trust in government and other institutions, whether people feel like their concerns are being listened to and properly valued, and the different ways that people weigh up the risks and benefits of being vaccinated.

Heidi Larson, Director of the Vaccine Confidence Project at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, and who advised on the research, said: “The challenge of low vaccine confidence is not new, though it is particularly pressing as governments struggle to contain COVID-19.

“Ultimately this is a challenge that is going to be with us for the long haul. As this report shows, the general public can be highly effective at building vaccine confidence among their friends and family, so we can all play a part in listening to people who have concerns and helping address them. We need an all-of-society approach to protect ourselves and our communities against COVID-19. The trust building needed is beyond vaccines, but building vaccine confidence is an entry point to the many other layers of trust needed moving forward”

Bob Goodson, President and Co-founder of NetBase Quid, said: “One of the unique things about the system we used to analyse this content is that we can deeply understand people’s emotional reactions to messages that they encounter on social media and time and again, people react most positively to simple, positive messages about vaccination and negatively to being told what to do.”

Genya Dana, Head of Health and Healthcare at the World Economic Forum, said: “It is important to come together and engage in dialogue to understand public health concerns. Vaccines represent one of the greatest public health advances in modern times. Their role in ending the COVID-19 pandemic depends in large part on understanding how to meet people where they are and listening to and responding to their questions.”

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