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UND study: unvaccinated young adults are not "anti-vaxxers"

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University of North Dakota
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Associate Professor Soojung Kim, UND

The study aimed to find out why the 19-29 age group was hesitant to be vaccinated for COVID-19.

A new University of North Dakota study aimed at pinpointing reasons for COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy in young people had surprising results.

Soojung Kim is an associate professor in UND’s department of communication. She was approached by Grand Forks Public Health late last fall about figuring out why 19-29 year olds were not getting vaccinated for COVID-19 as much as other groups – and that wasn’t just in Grand Forks County, either. It is a statewide and national trend.

Kim interviewed five focus groups comprised of unvaccinated Grand Forks County residents. She also analyzed comments on posts from the Grand Forks County Public Health Facebook page, and conducted an online survey. She says news coverage tended to point toward unvaccinated populations being staunch conservatives, particularly supporters of Donald Trump. But she says data proves a lot of these individuals identify as liberal, were not against vaccines, and they wanted more information before getting the shots.

"We cannot really blame the unvaccinated individuals as unreasonable, or extreme conservative Republicans, anti-vaxxers, anti-science people like that. They have their own valid concerns, those concerns haven't been answered, and the flip-side of that is okay, if they want to change their minds and be less hesitant about it - what would that take? They want to have confidence in the vaccine development, and the safety and efficacy of it."

Kim also says offering incentives to get vaccinated actually produced a “boomerang” effect, meaning it created the opposite effect of what was intended. She says these people didn’t want to be enticed to get the vaccine – they wanted to be educated on the science and safety of it.

Kim says one takeaway from her study could be that instead of using social media as a primary way of providing one-way information about where to get the shots, it could be utilized as a tool to educate and engage with those who needed their concerns addressed.

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