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‘Vaccine hesitant’ narrative isn’t working, we need to motivate people to get vaccinated, say psychologists

10 Jun ‘Vaccine hesitant’ narrative isn’t working, we need to motivate people to get vaccinated, say psychologists

Health Psychologists are urging a move away from the ‘vaccine hesitant’ blame-narrative to help boost take up, focusing instead on opportunity and motivation for people to get the Covid-19 vaccine.

With rising numbers of the delta variant potentially threatening the unlocking of restrictions on 21 June, there has been a focus on how to get those who are ‘vaccine hesitant’ to get their jabs. But psychologists say that label is an easy excuse and there needs to be a shift away from a ‘negative narrative of blame’. Behavioural science principles should be used to reach all communities and understand their opportunities and motivations to get the vaccine.

Dr Tracy Epton, lecturer in health psychology, and lead author of the British Psychological Society guidance which details ways psychological evidence can be used to boost uptake, said: “Calling people ‘vaccine hesitant’ isn’t good enough, it’s an easy excuse when actually we need to be taking a long hard look at how we make it easier for people to access the vaccine, and how we enable people to book an appointment to get a jab.

“For example, are vaccination clinics in the heart of communities, can people walk to them? If people have to get two buses, then a train, or even if they aren’t accessible via public transport, these are all factors which play a part. People might not have credit on their phone to ring and make an appointment, or to access the online booking system.”

Professor Angel Chater, chair of the BPS’ Behavioural Science and Disease Prevention Taskforce, added: “We must do better and not just place the reason for lack of vaccination uptake solely on the individual. We need to ensure that we are actually reaching people and rather than continuing a negative narrative of ‘blame’ due to perceived hesitancy, we should be asking ‘what is stopping you?’ and then respectfully offering solutions.

“Human behaviour is complex, yet can be understood with an elegant system of three factors; capability, opportunity and motivation. Sometimes, people may not do something because they are not capable to, they might not know what to do or how to do it. Other times, they might not have the opportunity to do something, due to the physical environment or people around them. And these factors might influence their motivation, they might not believe it will lead to better outcomes, or might be scared.”

Psychologists available for interview/comment

Dr Tracy Epton – Lecturer in Health Psychology
Dr Epton is a lecturer in health psychology at the University of Manchester. She has authored several reviews regarding health behaviour and Covid-19 and is lead author on the BPS guidance on optimising vaccination uptake for Covid-19.

Professor Angel Chater – chair of the British Psychological Society’s Division of Health Psychology
Professor Chater is a Health Psychologist and professor in health psychology and behaviour change at the University of Bedfordshire. She is the chair of the British Psychological Society Division of Health Psychology and leads the BPS Covid-19 Behavioural Science and Disease Prevention Taskforce which has produced over 15 pieces of guidance to support the use of psychology in public health efforts.