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How to increase COVID-19 vaccination in Australia?

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By Georgia Parsonson

It’s widely known that the media has the ability to influence and change opinions. It’s a career, as well as a field of study, and it’s called Marketing.

As the number of COVID-19 cases across the globe continues to climb, a new study has found that more positive promotion and media coverage of the approved vaccine brands could significantly improve people’s willingness to receive the jab.

The University of South Australia conducted the study – and more particularly, by the Ehrenberg Bass Institute of Marketing Science.

The researchers determined whether or not people’s opinions regarding the COVID-19 vaccines changed when presented with different vaccine brands. More than 2400 unvaccinated adults across Australia, the United States, and the United Kingdom participated in the study.

When certain brands were more positively promoted, people were more inclined to accept that particular kind of vaccine. This finding is particularly noteworthy because positive coverage of brands reaches 2-3 times greater than that of its negative counterpart.

Professor Jenni Romaniuk, the study’s lead researcher, determined that two challenges were facing the wide-scale vaccination of Australian residents: their willingness to be vaccinated at all and getting people willing to be vaccinated with the brand available to them.

“If we apply brand science to vaccination willingness, we can see how people’s awareness and knowledge of vaccine brands influence their uptake of the COVID-19 vaccination,” Prof Romaniuk said.

“Our research shows that choice is an important factor that is influencing rates of vaccination.

“Around 50% of people spontaneously indicated a first-choice vaccine [45% in the UK; 54% in the US; and 49% in Australia], yet unlike the UK or the US, people in Australia don’t yet have a choice of vaccine, and are instead allocated a specific vaccine brand.

“This poses a problem, because when people are restricted to a single vaccine brand, the only choices they have are either to remain unvaccinated or wait until their first choice might become available.

“The logical solution would be to offer a wider range of vaccines so people can exercise their right to choose which one they prefer, yet with current supply issues, this is currently impossible.

“In this scenario, the government needs to make the available vaccines far more desirable to the general public to increase people’s vaccine brand willingness – and this can be achieved through positive brand associations, via positive advertising and positive media coverage.”

The research has successfully highlighted the value of the media regarding the dissemination of brand information and awareness. It has also highlighted opportunities in which governments may promote these brands.

“Whether intended or not, the outcome of having multiple vaccines available at the same time has created a unique scenario where vaccine brands are competing for attention and share of mind – not only via government sources, but also via mainstream media,” Prof Romaniuk said.

“Mainstream news about brands is unusual. Unlike paid and controlled advertising, the media report both positive and negative aspects of vaccine brands, which places them in a very powerful position to swing people’s opinions.

“Our research shows that most people [the UK, 87%; the US, 82%; Australia, 86%] had seen or heard something in the media or via word-of-mouth about vaccines.

“Yet in Australia, people felt negative messages dominated the media [likely due to negative press about AstraZeneca and blood clots] than positive stories in the UK and US where it is more evenly balanced.

“Our research shows that there is no single perception was more effective in increasing willingness for any brand. Instead, it was the total number of positive associations people had mattered – and this finding was consistent across all brands tested (Pfizer, AstraZeneca, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson) and in all three countries.

“While creating entertaining advertising can help get attention, it’s important that this communicates useful messages – stories that hero the development of specific vaccines, the approval processes a brand went through, and positive user experiences can all contribute to increasing public confidence in the brands on offer.”

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