Countries of the world are in a desperate race to vaccinate residents against COVID-19. In the United States, the rate of vaccination is picking up. More than 20 percent of Americans have received at least one shot, and approximately 70 percent say they intend to be vaccinated, according to Pew Research.
Looking at those numbers, the national picture is brighter than it has been at any time in the last 12 months.
But numbers are only a piece of the puzzle, and a researcher at Stony Brook’s School of Communication and Journalism is working to place a few more pieces. Ruobing Li, assistant professor of mass communication, recently received a $25,000 grant from the university to explore the intersection between vaccine hesitancy and media exposure. Her work will lead to a greater understanding of how these two factors influence each other, and eventually to determine what kinds of public health messages may more effectively reach those who are reluctant to receive a COVID-19 vaccine.
“With the largest U.S. vaccination campaign underway, it is imperative to look at the significant population in this country who are hesitant to get vaccinated and, just as important, what media content and information are they consuming that impacts their hesitancy,” said Li.
Over the next several months, Li and fellow researcher Lijiang Shen, from Pennsylvania State University, will conduct a series of surveys to understand how U.S. residents perceive vaccines for COVID-19, including their level of hesitancy to get vaccinated themselves, and what media they consume. In the second phase, researchers will study the survey data to determine what influence an individual’s media habits may have on their level of vaccine hesitancy and begin to develop messages that may build trust and reduce hesitancy.
“Although information is dynamic, the proportion of unadministered to delivered doses of vaccines is a strong indicator of vaccine hesitancy,” said Lijiang Shen, professor of communication at Penn State. “For example, in the states in the southeast – Louisiana, Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi, Georgia and Alabama – there are at least 30 percent of the delivered vaccine doses not administered. This has implications for disparity and vaccine promoting campaigns and messages.”
The grant is one of about a dozen from Stony Brook University’s Office of the Vice President for Research, which annually awards funding to promising projects by early-career researchers.
“In supporting early-career researchers like Dr. Li, we are helping to ensure that our researchers have access to the resources and support to pursue their dreams,” said Nina Muang-Gaona, associate vice president for research. “Stony Brook researchers make incredible discoveries that impact our lives and our society.”
At the end of the year-long research project, Li and Shen aim to use their discoveries to conduct further research about media exposure, vaccine hesitancy, and their influence on each other.
“So many factors contribute to vaccine hesitancy in the United States, and there is so much we don’t know about how these factors connect and influence each other,” said Laura Lindenfield, dean of the School of Communication and Journalism, executive director of the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science, and vice provost for academic strategy and planning. “The work that Ruobing and Lijiang are undertaking thanks to Stony Brook’s support will give us nearly real-time insights, and may help public health efforts during this pandemic and in the future.”