U of A Professor Joins Transatlantic Report on COVID-19 Vaccine Engagement

Russell Cothren

Andy Brownback

The British Academy recently published 10 in-depth transatlantic reports under the collective title COVID-19 Recovery: Building Future Pandemic Preparedness and Understanding Citizen Engagement in the USA and UK. One of these 10 reports, “Securing the Goalposts on Vaccine Hesitancy,” was co-authored by Andy Brownback, an associate professor of economics at the U of A.

The purpose of Brownback’s report was to quantitatively assess two things that influenced vaccine hesitancy: the lack of information on COVID-19 and its vaccines, and the extent of politically motivated reasoning or exposure to misinformation. Brownback’s co-authors included Silvia Sonderegger, Guillermo Cruces, Seung-Keun Martinez and Monika Pompeo — all at the University of Nottingham.

To answer the first question, the researchers used a set of brief, informative videos addressing technical details about vaccines. They found that these videos were highly effective at improving attitudes towards vaccination. According to Brownback, their results “suggest that more comprehensive communication that does not shy away from technical content may be a more fruitful pathway to reaching vaccine-hesitant populations than current communication efforts.”

To answer the second question, the researchers explored what they called, “paradoxical reasoning.” They presented participants with more extreme implications of their anti-vaccine positions. For example, if someone said they would prefer “natural immunity” to COVID-19, the researchers asked if this meant that they would support a program where they could infect themselves with COVID-19 at a time when hospitals and ICUs have plenty of available beds and treatments. The researchers found that exposure to the extreme implications of their anti-vaccine positions made participants more positive about vaccination. “This suggests that, while people may sincerely hold anti-vaccine views, they are also motivated to avoid being associated with the extreme versions of these views,” Brownback concluded.

“We’re very thankful that the British Academy chose to fund this research that has specific relevance for the current moment — the COVID pandemic — and broad relevance for improving communication in an increasingly polarized world,” Brownback said of the project.

The COVID 19 Recovery report resulted from a partnership between the British Academy, the Social Sciences Research Council and the Science & Innovation Network in the United States to award funding to 10 transatlantic studies focusing on UK-US COVID-19 vaccine engagement. The program was funded by the United Kingdom’s Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.

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