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New Published Study Shows How Emotional Cues in Social Media Impact Vaccine Acceptance Internationally

The relationship between social media discourse and vaccine hesitancy garnered a great deal of scrutiny by academics and policymakers even before the COVID-19 pandemic. However, during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, this concern was exacerbated by the rapid proliferation of online information about COVID-19 across multiple social media platforms and its possible influence on vaccine acceptance. Understanding how online discourse may influence attitudes about vaccination beyond the United States is important for vaccine promotion and mitigating current and future pandemics worldwide.

A recent study co-authored by CCPP researchers examined how X (formerly Twitter) posts about COVID-19 vaccination impacted vaccine acceptance in Peru, the country with the highest relative number of COVID-19 excess deaths globally. Employing the “risk-as-feelings” framework for understanding risk and decision-making, the researchers argue that positive or negative sentiment expressed about COVID-19 vaccination may be used as a mental cue by social media users that influences their vaccine acceptance.

The findings show that social media content is a double-edged sword for vaccine promotion; on the one hand, when the net (positive) sentiment about COVID-19 vaccination increased in social media discourse, there was a corresponding increase in vaccine acceptance the next day. On the other hand, vaccine acceptance declined if net sentiment about COVID-19 decreased (i.e. it became more negative). 

This study reinforces the need to employ language that communicates positive emotions and trust when communicating about COVID-19 vaccination—it is a vital component of messaging, perhaps even more so than credibility. Public health communicators have the power to strengthen their vaccination campaigns by strategically implementing emotional cues in online content.