News coverage of expert scientific evidence about vaccine safety is effective at increasing public acceptance of vaccines, but the positive effect is diminished when the expert message is juxtaposed with a personal narrative about real side effects, according to new research.
The study, by researchers affiliated with the Annenberg Public Policy Center and the University of Illinois, tested the effects of messages about vaccination in televised news reports. These included video clips of Anthony Fauci, director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, talking about evidence supporting the value and safety of the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine, and a mother who’s refusing to vaccinate her youngest child because her middle child, who is shown with a rash, had what she characterized as severe reactions after receiving the MMR vaccine.
The research, published in PLOS ONE, is based on an experiment with a nationally representative sample of 2,345 participants during the 2019 U.S. measles outbreak.
The study, “The effects of scientific messages and narratives about vaccination,” found that Fauci’s “science-supporting” message had significant positive effects on views about vaccination when compared with a control message. Participants exposed to the expert message had lower perceptions of risk from vaccination; stronger pro-vaccine policy views; and stronger intentions to send a pro-vaccine letter to a state representative and to encourage other people to vaccinate their children. Additionally, the “hesitancy-inducing” narrative by the mother had no significant effect by itself on these outcomes. But when the two messages were juxtaposed, with video of the mother preceding Fauci, the mother’s hesitancy narrative diminished the effectiveness of the pro-vaccine message, according to some measures.
Read more at Annenberg Public Policy Center.