Background: Vaccination is considered the most effective preventive measure against influenza transmission, yet vaccination rates during the 2009/10 influenza A/H1N1 pandemic were low across the world, with the majority of people declining to receive the vaccine. Despite extensive research on the predictors of uptake of influenza vaccination, little research has focused on testing the effectiveness of evidence and theory-based messages.
Aims: To examine the persuasiveness of messages promoting vaccination and antiviral use either as health-enhancing or as risk-reducing, as well as messages which conveyed evidence-based information about the costs and benefits of vaccination, or which applied anticipated regret as a motivator for vaccine uptake.
Method: We conducted 11 focus groups with forty-one members of the general population in England including young and older adults, those with lower education, parents, and those with elevated health risk. The data were analysed using thematic analysis.
Results: The factual, evidence-based messages were well received with participants finding them the most convincing and useful, particularly where they gave cost-benefit comparisons. Health-enhancing messages were received with scepticism and concern that the messages were not honest about the potential lack of safety of vaccination. In contrast, risk-reduction messages were perceived as being more balanced and credible. Messages aiming to elicit feelings of anticipated regret for not getting vaccinated were generally perceived as patronising and unprofessional.
Conclusions: Vaccination messages should be kept brief, but convey balanced, evidence-based information, and be transparent in their communication of potential side-effects. The general public seem to prefer messages that are factual and emphasise the costs and benefits of vaccination, particularly with regards to vaccine safety.
Keywords: Influenza; Pandemic; Risk communication; Vaccination.
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