Understanding and addressing vaccine hesitancy in the context of COVID-19: development of a digital intervention

Public Health. 2021 Oct 18;201:98-107. doi: 10.1016/j.puhe.2021.10.006. Online ahead of print.


Objectives: Severe Acute Respiratory Coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) was identified in late 2019, spreading to over 200 countries and resulting in almost two million deaths worldwide. The emergence of safe and effective vaccines provides a route out of the pandemic, with vaccination uptake of 75-90% needed to achieve population protection. Vaccine hesitancy is problematic for vaccine rollout; global reports suggest only 73% of the population may agree to being vaccinated. As a result, there is an urgent need to develop equitable and accessible interventions to address vaccine hesitancy at the population level.

Study design: & Method: We report the development of a scalable digital intervention seeking to address COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy and enhance uptake of COVID-19 vaccines in the United Kingdom. Guided by motivational interviewing (MI) principles, the intervention includes a series of therapeutic dialogues addressing 10 key concerns of vaccine-hesitant individuals. Development of the intervention occurred linearly across four stages. During stage 1, we identified common reasons for COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy through analysis of existing survey data, a rapid systematic literature review, and public engagement workshops. Stage 2 comprised qualitative interviews with medical, immunological, and public health experts. Rapid content and thematic analysis of the data provided evidence-based responses to common vaccine concerns. Stage 3 involved the development of therapeutic dialogues through workshops with psychological and digital behaviour change experts. Dialogues were developed to address concerns using MI principles, including embracing resistance and supporting self-efficacy. Finally, stage 4 involved digitisation of the dialogues and pilot testing with members of the public.

Discussion: The digital intervention provides an evidence-based approach to addressing vaccine hesitancy through MI principles. The dialogues are user-selected, allowing exploration of relevant issues associated with hesitancy in a non-judgmental context. The text-based content and digital format allow for rapid modification to changing information and scalability for wider dissemination.

Keywords: COVID-19; Intervention; Motivational interviewing; Vaccine hesitancy.