Behavioral nudges are more effective than education campaigns at improving vaccinate rates, according to a recent report published in the journal Psychological Science in the Public Interest, the Washington Post's "To Your Health" reports.
For the report, researchers sought to determine the efficacy of educational campaigns designed to encourage individuals to get vaccinated. According to Becker's Clinical Leadership & Infection Control, local health departments often launch such campaigns in communities with low vaccination rates.
The researchers reviewed hundreds of studies on psychology, behavioral science, and vaccinations.
Overall, the researchers found vaccine-related education campaigns are largely ineffective. But they identified one promising way forward: Behavioral "nudges"—such as automatically scheduled vaccination appointments, text reminders from providers, and monetary incentives from employers—can be effective at improving vaccination rates, research shows.
For instance, the researchers cited one study that found flu shot vaccinations at a U.S. company rose by 1.5% when the employer began asking its employees to name the date that they planned to receive their flu shot. That vaccination rate rose even more, by 4%, when the company asked its employees to name the specific date and time at which they would receive their flu shot.
According to Noel Brewer, lead author on the new review and a health and behavior scientist at the University of North Carolina, "Four percent may not mean that much, but in the world of vaccinations, it can be huge."
In a separate study cited by the researchers, doctors increased their patients' HPV vaccination rates by 5% by keeping their discussion about the HPV vaccine brief and assertive. The researchers found that if doctors spent a great deal of time talking about the disease and vaccine, patients began growing more suspicious and worried about it.
Brewer said, "It's much more effective at visits to say the child is due for several vaccines and we'll take care of it at the end of the visit." He added, "Of course, if parents have questions, then answer the question."
The researchers wrote that the findings suggest doctors and public health officials should focus on behavioral nudges, rather than on campaigns geared toward improving education.
In an accompanying essay, Victor Dzau, president of the National Academy of Medicine, said that this report showed an important link between psychology and vaccinations. He also wrote that outbreaks such as last year's measles outbreak in Minnesota can be frustrating because they are so easily preventable. "Psychology offers insight into why people engage in health behaviors including vaccination," Dzau wrote (Wan, "To Your Health," Washington Post, 4/4; Zimmerman, Becker's Clinical Leadership & Infection Control, 4/4).
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