How this guide was developed

This guide was prepared by the Center for Public Interest Communications at the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications in partnership with Purpose and the United Nations Verified initiative.

Our research began with an information-gathering scan of peer-reviewed research from the US and the UK in vaccine hesitancy, through which we identified a group of scholars with expertise in identity, trust, science communication, etc. Over a period of five days from August 21-25, 2020, we held a series of conversations with these scholars around specific topics related to vaccine hesitancy. These included: What makes people resilient against misinformation? What drives vaccine hesitancy? Which frames will be most effective? What kinds of message strategies have been effective with specific communities? And finally, what are some of the best ways to make taking the vaccine a norm within particular communities? These conversations were transcribed and coded, and we identified the principals shared here.

We applied these principles to generate a survey which was conducted in four countries – France, Germany, the United States, and the United Kingdom from October 4-18, 2020.

The survey had more than 1,600 total respondents, with more than 400 respondents per country, and was representative of gender, race, income, geography, and age. It offers preliminary data on testable claims made in this guide. The survey was conducted with online participants who were willing to take part. The survey was conducted by the survey firm Qualtrics which adhered to research guidelines and provided informed consent to survey takers about the survey and their rights. Across the survey 301 people (18%) reported they were vaccine hesitant, which is in line with national surveys as of October 2020. While statistically significant, this survey was used to test the reception of certain messages and can not be generalized across all populations.

Participating Scholars

Emily K. Brunson, MPH, Ph.D., is an associate professor of Anthropology at Texas State University. She is a medical anthropologist with training in cultural and biological anthropology as well as public health. Her research focuses on health care access and decision-making, and particularly how policies, social structures (including class and racial inequalities), social relationships and personal experience combine to produce health outcomes for individuals. Her research on vaccination has been published in Pediatrics, Vaccine and Health Security. She recently co-led a working group, with Monica Schoch-Spana, on readying populations for COVID-19 vaccines.

Lisa Fazio, Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor of Psychology at Vanderbilt University. Her research focuses on how people learn true and false information from the world around them and how to correct errors in people’s knowledge. Her research informs basic theories about learning and memory, while also having clear applications for practitioners, such as journalists and teachers. Her research area is in cognition and cognitive neuroscience as well as developmental science. She’s written on how to recognize misleading COVID-19 information on social media as well as how to avoid knowledge neglect and spreading misinformation.

David Fetherstonhaugh, Ph.D.,  is an applied behavioral economist in private industry practice. He holds a Master’s in Statistics and a Ph.D. in Psychology from Stanford University. His work looks to bring behavioral economics to human-centered design to drive measurable results that transform product offerings, user experiences and business outcomes. His organization helps others discover the behavioral barriers and hooks to unlock engagement & behavior potential, design for choice sets to shape people’s decisions and activate desired behaviors and develop organizational pathways to turn new behaviors into organizational habits that spread through social & business networks.. 

Kurt Gray, Ph.D. is an Associate Professor in Psychology and Neuroscience at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He directs the Deepest Beliefs Lab and the Center for the Science of Moral Understanding. The lab investigates people’s most important beliefs, including morality and religion, and how they impact society.  Lab research has clear applications to the real world, revealing how people respond to bias in algorithms, the roots of intersectional discrimination, how ethical policies in organizations can backfire, and how best to foster political tolerance. HIs recent research looked at a scale to measure realistic threat (health/livelihood) and symbolic threats (social identity) of COVID-19.

Jay Hmielowski, Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor at the College of Journalism and Communications at the University of Florida. His research interests include environmental, science, and political communication. He is interested in understanding why different messages are effective or ineffective at changing people’s attitudes and beliefs associated with various environmental, science, and political issues. He is also interested in how people’s attitudes and beliefs affect their information seeking behaviors. He has written on partisan echo chambers, environmental risk information seeking and was part of a COVID-19 health behaviors research team for the University.

Myiah Hutchens, Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor at the College of Journalism and Communications at the University of Florida. She is a political communication scholar whose research generally centers on how communication functions in democratic processes. Her research focuses on what leads people to seek out diverse perspectives – particularly views they disagree with – and how individuals then process that disagreement. She has written on political communications and its impact on trust in the media, breaking partisan echo chambers and was part of a COVID-19 health behaviors research team for the University.

Jonathan Kennedy, Ph.D.,  is a Senior Lecturer (Associate Professor) in Global Public Health at Barts and the London School of Medicine and Dentistry, Queen Mary University of London. His research has two main strands: the first focuses on armed conflict and health, the second on vaccine hesitancy. His work has been published in journals such as Lancet, Social Science and Medicine, European Journal of Public Health, European Journal of Sociology, and Comparative Studies in Society and History. He writes on topics related to politics and health for a non-academic audience, including The Guardian, The London Review of Books, Al Jazeera, El Pais, Les Echos, Politico, and Project Syndicate.

Heidi J. Larson, Ph.D.,  is Professor of Anthropology, Risk and Decision Science and Director of the Vaccine Confidence Project at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and Clinical Professor of Health Metrics Sciences at the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington, Seattle, USA. The Vaccine Confidence Project has developed multiple metrics to measure population confidence in vaccines, from a Vaccine Confidence Index™ to temporal analysis of media and social media, and qualitative research to understand the drivers of vaccine reluctance and refusal.

Neil Lewis, Jr., Ph.D.,  is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Communication at Cornell University and the Division of General Internal Medicine at Weill Cornell Medicine. He is a behavioral, intervention, and meta-scientist who studies how people’s social contexts and identities influence their motivation to pursue their goals, and success in their goal pursuit efforts. He studies these processes most often in the domains of education, health, and environmental sustainability, in hopes that the knowledge generated from this research can provide useful insights for developing interventions to help people achieve their education, health, and sustainability-related goals.

David Markowitz, Ph.D. is an Assistant Professor in the School of Journalism and Communication at the University of Oregon. He uses language data from natural repositories to make inferences about people, such as what they are thinking, feeling, and experiencing psychologically. He researches what our digital traces reveal about us, using computational approaches to analyze how social and psychological phenomena—such as deception, persuasion, and status—are reflected in language. His work has appeared in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Journal of Communication, Communication Research, and the Journal of Language and Social Psychology, and covered by outlets including Vice, Business Insider, Forbes, and NPR. 

Gordon Pennycook, Ph.D. is an Assistant Professor of Behavioural Science at University of Regina’s Hill/Levene Schools of Business and is an award-winning expert on the psychology of reasoning and decision-making. He investigates the distinction between intuition (“gut feelings”) and analytic thinking, with a particular focus on two broad questions: 1) What features of our cognitive architecture initiate deliberative thought in the mind?, and 2) When does reasoning hurt us and when does it help us? Research topics include: Conflict detection, base-rate neglect, religious belief, morality, creativity, science beliefs, political ideology, and misinformation. He has published research focused on interventions against COVID-19 misinformation as well as work that focuses on the psychological underpinnings of misperceptions about COVID-19. 

Ellen Peters, Ph.D., is the Philip H. Knight Chair and Director of the Center for Science Communication Research in the School of Journalism and Communication at the University of Oregon. Her primary research interests concern how people judge and decide, and how evidence-based communication can boost comprehension and improve decisions in health, financial, and environmental context She studies the basic building blocks of human judgment and decision making and their links with effective communication techniques, numeracy, affect and emotion. Here book, Innumeracy in the Wild, looks at misunderstanding and misusing numbers.

Sandra Quinn, Ph.D., is Professor and Chair of the Department of Family Science and Senior Associate Director of the Maryland Center for Health Equity, School of Public Health at the University of Maryland. She is currently Principal Investigator (w. D. Broniatowski) on a National Institute of General Medical Sciences/NIH grant, Supplementing Survey-Based Analyses of Group Vaccination Narratives and Behaviors Using Social Media. As the Principal Investigator of a CDC funded study, Public Attitudes Toward H1N1 Influenza, she was the first to examine public attitudes toward emergency use authorizations for drugs and vaccines and to test an empirical model of disparities in exposure, susceptibility and access to care during a pandemic. 

Monica Schoch-Spana, Ph.D., is a medical anthropologist and a Senior Scholar with the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security.  Her areas of expertise include community resilience to disaster, public engagement in policy making, crisis and risk communication, and public health emergency preparedness. Her principal goal is to work to influence policy and practice in ways that reduce human suffering and social disruption in the case of epidemics and disaster. During the COVID-19 response, she has collaborated in producing guidance to top executives on phased reopening principles, mental health challenges of the pandemic, research needed to support school reopening decisions, and ethical principles for the allocation of the limited future doses of SARS-CoV-2 vaccines.

Paul Slovic, Ph.D., is a professor of psychology at the University of Oregon and a founder and President of Decision Research. Decision Research is a collection of scientists from all over the nation and in other countries that study decision-making in times when risks are involved. He studies human judgment, decision making, and the psychology of risk. His most recent research examines “psychic numbing” and the failure to respond to the threat of mass human tragedies such as genocide and nuclear war. He is considered a leading theorist and researcher in the risk perception field (the psychometric paradigm, the affect heuristic, and “risk as feeling”).  

Jay Van Bavel, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor of Psychology & Neural Science at New York University, an affiliate at the Stern School of Business in Management and Organizations, and Director of the Social Identity & Morality Lab. From neurons to social networks, Jay’s research examines how collective concerns—group identities, moral values, and political beliefs—shape the mind, brain, and behavior. This work addresses issues of group identity, social motivation, cooperation, implicit bias, moral judgment and decision-making, and group regulation from a social neuroscience perspective. Early in the pandemic, he gathered 40+ scholars and drafted a summary of research findings on fake news and conspiracy theories, leadership, threat perception and other issues that are all at play into the COVID-19 response.