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Using behavioural science could give vital boost to vaccination uptake, say psychologists

20 April 2021

Focusing on vaccine hesitancy could mean we are missing an opportunity to maximise uptake by better understanding people’s capability, opportunity and motivation to get the Covid-19 vaccination, say psychologists.

After reviewing the factors that can influence people’s responses to messages about vaccination uptake, the BPS' Behavioural Science and Disease Prevention Taskforce has identified six key principles to optimise public health efforts to reach all communities and promote vaccination equity across the whole population.

  • Understanding – people will be more likely to get the vaccination if they understand the safety of the vaccine, the benefits to themselves, their communities, any potential side effects and what they need to do post-vaccination
  • Personalise – people need to receive messages which are personalised to their needs, for example in certain languages and via accessible mediums
  • Trust – dispelling misinformation is vital, messages need to state the facts and be delivered by trusted members of the community
  • Address barriers to access – practical as well as psychological barriers need to be addressed.  For instance, vaccination centres should be accessible within local communities
  • Keep it brief – avoid jargon and keep messages clear
  • Evidence of effectiveness – showcase the evidence for how well the vaccination works, and the benefit of getting the vaccination for not just themselves but loved ones and society as a whole

Dr Tracy Epton, lead author of the guidance, said:

“If we view the vaccination programme through a behavioural science lens we know that people’s capability to enact the behaviour, the opportunities to actually enable the behaviour, and the motivation to perform the behaviour all play a role in people’s likelihood to get the vaccination.

“As we look to continue the momentum of the vaccination roll-out, it is so important that public health messaging is personally relevant, clear, factual, and delivered in a medium, or from an individual that communities trust. We need to involve members of different groups to find out their particular needs and what can support them to take up the vaccination as different groups will have different levels of knowledge and understanding, different beliefs, different barriers to access and different needs for evidence of effectiveness.”

Professor Angel Chater, chair of the BPS’ Behavioural Science and Disease Prevention Taskforce, added:

“Expertise of those on the taskforce can help to offer a unique insight into what needs to be considered to optimise vaccination uptake and ensure vaccination equity amongst different populations.

“It is not good enough to say that people are ‘vaccine hesitant’ when often messages are not tailored and personalised, and/or environments are not accessible or enabling. This new guidance sets out clearly how public health efforts can be optimised by considering people’s capability, opportunity and motivation to encourage and enable as many people as possible to get their vaccination, so that we can all look forward to taking the next steps out of this pandemic.”

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