Background: As several COVID-19 vaccines are rolled-out globally, it has become important to develop an effective strategy for vaccine acceptance, especially in high-risk groups, such as elderly. Vaccine misconception was declared by WHO as one of the top 10 health issues in 2019. Here we test the effectiveness of applying debunking to combat vaccine misinformation, and reduce vaccine hesitancy. Methods: Participants were recruited via a daily news show on Dutch Television, targeted to elderly viewers. The study was conducted in 980 elderly citizens during the October 2020 National Influenza Vaccination Campaign. Borrowing from the recent literature in behavioural science and psychology we conducted a two-arm randomized blinded parallel study, in which participants were allocated to exposure to a video containing social norms, vaccine information plus debunking of vaccination myths (intervention group, n = 505) or a video only containing vaccine information plus social norm (control group, n = 475). Participants who viewed either of the video's and completed both a pre- and post-intervention survey on vaccination trust and knowledge, were included in the analysis. The main outcomes of this study were improvement on vaccine knowledge and awareness. Findings: Participants were recruited from the 13th of October 2020 till the 16th of October 2020 and could immediately participate in the pre-intervention survey. Subsequently, eligible participants were randomly assigned to an interventional video and the follow-up survey, distributed through email on the 18th of October 2020, and available for participation till the 24th of October 2020. We found that exposure to the video with addition of debunking strategies on top of social norm modelling and information resulted in substantially stronger rejection of vaccination misconceptions, including the belief that: (1) vaccinations can cause Autism Spectrum Disorders; (2) vaccinations weaken the immune system; (3) influenza vaccination would hamper the COVID-19 vaccine efficacy. Additionally, we observed that exposure to debunking in the intervention resulted in enhanced trust in government. Interpretation: Utilizing debunking in media campaigns on top of vaccine information and social norm modeling is an effective means to combat misinformation and distrust associated with vaccination in elderly, and could help maximize grounds for the acceptance of vaccines, including the COVID-19 vaccines. Funding: Dutch Influenza Foundation.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
This study was funded by the Dutch Influenza Foundation. The funder had no role in study design, data collection, data analysis, data interpretation, or writing of the report. Furthermore, the funder had no access to collected data and was not involved in the decision to submit the findings of this study for peer-reviewed publication. All authors had full access to all the data in the study and had final responsibility for the decision to submit for publication.
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