New Lessons Learned in Building COVID-19 Vaccine Acceptance

By Laura McGorman, Director, Data for Good


  • We found that by answering common questions with practical information and tailoring content to local languages, perceptions of COVID-19 vaccine safety and efficacy increased.
  • Using messaging that emphasizes local beliefs and social values also increased people’s intent to vaccinate.
  • Humanizing the act of getting vaccinated through storytelling and testimonials improved social approval of COVID-19 vaccines.

Over the last year, our Data for Good team collaborated with UNICEF, the Yale Institute for Global Health (YIGH) and the Public Good Projects (PGP) to develop campaigns that drive COVID-19 vaccine acceptance in Kenya, India, Pakistan and Ukraine and have reached more than 155 million people. In celebration of World Immunization week, we analyzed the results of these campaigns and are sharing lessons learned on which messages were most effective for public health practitioners to learn from.

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Providing Practical Information and Locally Relevant Content is Critical

Through analyzing public Facebook posts, we found that people had basic questions about COVID-19 vaccine safety, efficacy, availability and eligibility. For each country, we worked to ensure that the campaign content reflected the community’s main concerns and questions and linked to resources where they could get more information. 

In Ukraine, the campaign that provided information on eligibility and registration succeeded in improving the likelihood that people would advise their friends to get vaccinated, and the safety and efficacy campaign increased perceptions of vaccine importance. Similarly in Kenya, the practical campaign was effective at improving perceptions of vaccine safety.

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In India and Pakistan, content in local languages, rather than the national language of English, also led to higher percentages of people clicking on the links to vaccine resource pages provided in the ads than the English content did.

By answering common questions with practical information and tailoring content to local languages and concerns, people were more likely to have better perceptions of vaccines and seek out more information.

Values-Based Messaging Is Effective

Existing behavioral science research has found a significant association between vaccine hesitancy and the upholding of certain moral values such as personal liberty and a belief in purity. Meanwhile, prior research suggests that leveraging local social norms such as collectivism and equity can be powerful tools in influencing people’s likelihood to vaccinate.

UNICEF Ukraine ran messages emphasizing that vaccines are a personal choice that can lead to positive outcomes for individuals and their families, which improved perceptions that it was better to get vaccinated than to risk getting COVID-19. And in India, the UNICEF and YIGH teams developed a campaign that used images depicting national pride which performed especially well, increasing the likelihood that the target audience would advise a close friend or relative to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

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While people seek practical information about vaccines, they also care about the moral values that underpin receiving them. Using messaging that emphasizes common beliefs and social values improved likelihood to be vaccinated.

Testimonials Are Powerful

Existing public health research has found approaches like parental stories can be effective in getting people to seek more information about vaccines, and UNICEF and Yale’s Vaccine Messaging Guide outlines that using narrative techniques can be a compelling messaging strategy.

In our own pre-campaign research, we found that many people in India shared personal stories of being vaccinated on Facebook and encouraged others to do the same. In India, we developed testimonial-style content featuring healthcare workers. The storytelling campaign was particularly effective for improving perceptions of social approval of the vaccine and the likelihood that people would recommend the vaccine to their friends.

Humanizing the act of getting vaccinated through storytelling and testimonials also improved social approval of COVID-19 vaccines, by making the campaigns more relatable.

This research and message testing represents the first phase of our collaboration with UNICEF, the Yale Institute for Global Health and the Public Goods Project. Our next steps will include randomized control trials to test whether digital campaigns are leading to higher immunization rates overall and further illuminate the role that digital campaigns can play in advancing global public health goals.

Learn more about our campaign analysis for building COVID-19 vaccine acceptance.

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