Text message reminders could help increase COVID-19 vaccination rates, a new study suggests.
Researchers from the University of Pennsylvania tested nearly 20 different text ‘nudges,’ or prompts about getting the annual flu shot.
They found that while some text messages worked better than others, the program boosted influenza vaccination rates overall by about five percent.
It comes as the U.S. coronavirus vaccination rollout has stalled, falling from more than three million per day in April to about one million in June even as highly dangerous variants continue to spread.
A new study looked at 19 different text messages about getting the flu shot sent to more than 47,300 patients between September 2020 and December 2020 (file image)
Researchers hope a similar system could help boost vaccination rates for COVID-19 shots, which have fallen from 3 million a day to 1 million a day. Pictured: A healthcare worker administers the COVID-19 vaccine as the Empire State Building, June 2021
For the study, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the team partnered with two large health systems: Penn Medicine and Geisinger Health.
Between late September 2020 and New Year’s Eve, the team generated 19 different text messages and sent them to more than 47,300 patients.
Some were text message facts such as one read: ‘Getting a flu shot is an easy way to be healthy.’
Others focused on the importance of protecting family and read: ‘Dedicate your flu shot to a loved one’ or ‘Protect a vulnerable loved one by getting a flu shot.’
Some of the messages were simple reminders including: ‘Don’t forget to get a flu shot’ or ‘Flu shot reserved for you.’
Researchers found the texts that performed best were those that told patients influenza vaccines were reserved for them, which were sent twice: once 72 hours before a doctor’s appointment and then either 24 hours before or 15 minutes before.
Vaccination rates were boosted by about 5% with patients responding best to messages that told them a flu shot was reserved for them and worst to funny texts (above)
The texts boosted flu vaccination rates by about five percent.
‘It made people feel like it was theirs – that it was their shot and that they shouldn’t miss out on it,’ co-researcher Dr Mitesh Patel, national lead for behavioral insights at Ascension Health, told CNN.
Jokes such as a message that read: ‘Did you hear the joke about the flu? Never mind, I don’t want to spread it around’ were not successful.
Funny text messages only increased vaccinations rates by about one percent.
The researchers found that patients responded best to messages that spoke to them directly as a health care provider typically would.
Patel said text messages may not convince vaccine hesitant people to get a shot, but may boost rates among those who are indifferent.
‘There’s probably 10 percent of people who are just vaccine apathetic,’ he told CNN.
‘They’re not against it, but they’re not going to go out of their way to get it, and that 10 percent could really push us to
Co-lead author Dr Katy Milkman, a professor of operations, information and decisions at the University of Pennsylvania, said text messages could help people intending to get vaccinated actually do so, such as Americans planning to get a second dose.
The CDC launched a similar system, VaxText, which is a free platform for patients to receive message reminders to get their second shot of a COVID-19 vaccine
‘This is exactly the kind of strategy we would want to use to get people to get their second vaccine – especially with this new [Delta] variant, where we’re really well protected if we’ve had both doses, but not so well protected if we’ve just had one,’ Milkman told CNN.