COVID-19 vaccine uptake a matter of words’

by Amref Health Africa

A simple language intervention has the potential to increase COVID-19 vaccination rates by boosting confidence in vaccines, researchers say.

A study published in the journal this month nature Scientific found that people from bilingual communities in Hong Kong were more likely to consent to vaccination against COVID-19 after receiving information in English than after receiving it in Cantonese.

Researchers say their findings show the language’s potential to boost confidence in vaccines worldwide.

“The finding that language can affect public confidence in COVID-19 vaccines could be of interest to public health decision-makers, particularly in countries with bilingual populations.” Janet Geipel, Assistant Professor, University of Exeter Business School, UK.

Psychologist Janet Geipel, Assistant Professor at the University of Exeter Business School, UK, and lead author of the study, said: “Our primary goal in this study was to find a cost-effective intervention that might have the potential to increase the confidence associated with it strengthen the COVID-19 vaccine and thereby reduce vaccination hesitancy.”

The researchers interviewed 611 unvaccinated Chinese living in Hong Kong, who were divided into two groups and who received the exact same COVID-19 vaccine information in either English or Cantonese – the two dominant languages ​​in the region.

Participants who read materials about the vaccine in English were seven percent more likely to say “yes” to the COVID-19 vaccine and seven percent less likely to say “unsure” about having the vaccine.

The percentage of people who said “no” to the vaccine was about the same in both groups.

Co-author Boaz Keysar, a psychology professor at the University of Chicago in the US, said: “Seven percentage points may not sound like a lot, but in the context of interventions, it’s actually huge… Seven percent out of 10 million people, for example, it’s a lot of people .”

According to the researchers, the context in which two different languages ​​are used and the associations people have with those languages ​​vary from place to place. If one language is associated with more public trust than the other, that language should be used to communicate vaccine and other health information, they suggest.

“The finding that language can affect public confidence in COVID-19 vaccines could be of interest to public health decision-makers, particularly in countries with bilingual populations,” Geipel added.

With more than half of the world’s population using two or more languages ​​in everyday life, she believes that language interventions are a practical solution when the local context is properly considered.

Lennah Kinyanjui is Project Manager for the COVID-19 Response Project at Amref Health Africa and has worked with communities in Kenya where Swahili and a local language are spoken. She said: “People trust information from their local guides and colleagues, delivered in local languages.

“Radio messages and radio talk shows in local languages ​​have had a greater impact, clearing up myths and misconceptions that have hampered vaccine uptake.”

Education is also an important factor, Kinyanjui believes. “People who are illiterate or semi-literate are more responsive to a language, especially the local language,” she said.

“However, educated people trust information more when they see the same information from different sources and in different languages.”

The researchers behind the Hong Kong study say their findings shouldn’t just be viewed as a case study, but as a demonstration of the power of language to boost trust in general.

Beyond vaccines, language choice could be considered globally to provide health information in a variety of contexts, the authors suggest, citing cancer screening as an example.

Article first published on

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