Location, location, location: Why the tools for fighting vaccine hesitancy depend on where you are in the world


RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — It’s hard enough to convince the holdouts around here to get vaccinated for COVID-19.

North Carolina State marketing professor Stacy Wood is tackling an even bigger problem — vaccinating the world.


Wood co-authored a study published in the British Medical Journal that found some of the methods used to combat vaccine hesitancy in the United States are less effective in other parts of the world.

“There are different reasons why people aren’t getting the vaccine,” she said, “and therefore, there are different things that will persuade them to do it.”

The study looked at a dozen strategies used in the seven major world regions, as determined by the World Bank, to determine which work best — and worst — in those areas.

“We found out that all the strategies that we tested can be applied globally, but they need different levels of adaptation,” she said.

For example, Wood said having direct, one-on-one conversations with holdouts — a recommended method in the U.S. — was less effective in parts of northern Europe because “that was seen as dumbing things down.”

“So it was interesting because there were differences in people’s desire for statistics versus stories, and their desire for really compelling examples versus scientific facts and graphics,” Wood added. “And that’s been something that I think a lot of public health communicators have been struggling with.”

Other methods that could work well, according to the study:

— Targeting German sports fans with team-specific promotions, such as the expected boost to a favorite team’s home-field advantage with a higher vaccination rate and a fuller stadium.

— In Jamaica, emphasizing the common enemy of economic distress caused by the pandemic and the boost to tourism that could come with improved vaccination rates.

— Use the compromise effect in Canada by giving the hesitant a selection of choices.

But with so many people in the U.S. who haven’t gotten the shots — only about 60 percent of Americans are fully vaccinated — shouldn’t the focus be on those people and not the rest of the world?

Maybe not. Many of the variants — including the delta variant that swept mostly through the unvaccinated through the U.S. and North Carolina during the summer — mutate, develop and spread worldwide.

Which goes back to a common axiom during the pandemic: Until everyone is safe, no one is safe.

Wood says it’s time to approach hesitancy as a problem that can be solved by marketing.

“If you think about it, this vaccine is the most important new product of our lifetime,” she said. “And as such, we can look at it from a new product launch scenario.”

Comparing the vaccine to other improvements of modern life like refrigerators and electricity that Wood said “were adopted relatively slowly and needed a lot of public persuasion along the way. 

“So I think we can take that lesson and use some of those strategies here that may strike epidemiologists as something unnecessary, but we know from new product launches is kind of just par for the course,” she added.

CBS 17’s Joedy McCreary has been tracking COVID-19 figures since March 2020, compiling data from federal, state, and local sources to deliver a clear snapshot of what the coronavirus situation looks like now and what it could look like in the future.

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