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Overwhelming scientific evidence points to vaccinations as essential for preventing many potentially deadly and debilitating infections in children, teens and adults such as polio, measles, influenza and human papilloma virus. Despite this, some pregnant women and parents choose to delay certain vaccinations or to not have themselves or their children vaccinated at all. This growing phenomenon, termed vaccine hesitancy, is believed to be the cause of several vaccine-preventable disease outbreaks in the United States. The majority of vaccine communication research has centered on addressing vaccine hesitancy in pregnant women and parents of young children. A smaller but growing volume of research has focused on vaccination hesitancy impacting teens and adults.

Several scientific studies have implicated anti-vaccine rhetoric on social media as a key contributor to vaccine hesitancy. However, few studies have assessed the effectiveness of social media or web-based platforms for improving vaccine-hesitant attitudes and rates of vaccine adherence across different types of vaccines. In addition, no research has systematically compared pro- and anti-vaccine messages to characterize the nature of the arguments that they invoke or to analyze participant responses to such arguments.

ORAU health communication researchers Kristin Mattson, Jennifer Reynolds and Diane Krause began working with Itai Himelboim, Ph.D., Michael Cacciatore, Ph.D., and graduate student Sungsu Kim, from the University of Georgia in 2018 to conduct an innovative research study to fill these gaps. Funded by the ODRD program, the team is characterizing the digital channels, principal arguments and communication message tactics used by pro-vaccine and anti-vaccine advocates across social media for three different types of vaccines. This project is examining message tactics and other components that can be used as part of a digital strategy to improve vaccine messaging on social media in an effort to increase vaccination rates. A white paper discussing the project findings and implications for future vaccine communication is expected to be released in 2019.

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For information about ORAU’s health communication, preparedness and response solutions, contact Freddy Gray, director, Health Communication and Preparedness programs, at 865.576.0029 or