Survey: Effective Vaccine Conversations Rely on Open Communication

It’s not only what you say, but how you say it

With the unfolding of recent measles outbreaks in the U.S.—a disease that had been declared eliminated but is now making a frightening resurgence—the hot-button debate over vaccinating children is now front and center once again.

The science behind vaccines is abundantly clear—they are safe, effective, and essential. However, many still feel skeptical.

So, we surveyed 1,000 people to better understand the conversation around vaccines and how—and if—it plays a role in whether people choose to vaccinate their children.

Summary of Key Findings

  • Vaccination is the #1 health-related source of disagreement among friends, family, and loved ones when discussing hot-button issues.
  • 1 in 5 disagree about vaccines.
  • While people are talking about vaccines with multiple folks in their lives, 60% of these conversations happen among partners and family members and 63% among friends.
  • 1 in 5 remain completely passive in their conversations about vaccines.
  • 52% of people opt to just hear out others’ opinions on vaccines and insert theirs only if they feel like it.
  • 65% of people have no success or influence on vaccine-related discussions.
  • People who seek out help on how to talk about vaccines are almost twice as likely to have a positive impact.
  • Those who focus on how they communicate are 14% more likely to see a positive outcome.

A Relevant Topic for Everyone

You may have thought that whether or not to vaccinate your child was a conversation of days past, but 1 in 5 Americans are currently having disagreements on the topic. In fact, vaccination is the number one health-related source of disagreement among friends, family, and loved ones when discussing hot-button issues.

And it’s not just households welcoming newborns or raising young children that are discussing vaccines. Yes, 60% of these conversations do happen among partners and family members. But, an unexpected 63% of these conversations are happening among friends.

Even more, almost 72% are talking to one or two people in their lives about vaccines, and 16% are talking to over five. Basically, everyone is talking about vaccines!

It’s All in the Approach

But exactly how are people talking about it? And does the way they approach the discussion affect its outcome?

Of those who do converse about vaccines, more than half (52%) take a backseat, opting to just hear out others’ opinions and insert theirs where and if they feel like it. And on top of that, 1 in 5 remain completely apathetic about the topic and choose to just listen or abandon the conversation entirely.

If the goal is to dispel any false health claims and promote vaccination among skeptics, then America is failing. In fact, 65% of people have no success or influence in changing the direction of these discussions, which is unsurprising given their passive approach.

Communication Is Key

But that doesn’t mean we should give up. Putting in a little more effort can yield tremendous results.

In fact, people who sought out tools and advice on how to talk about vaccines were almost twice as likely to have a positive impact on the person they were speaking with. They even reported feeling more prepared going into the discussion.

But that’s not carte blanche to go in and just bark stats and spew research. Facts don’t always help. Almost half (48%) of survey respondents who consider themselves knowledgeable about vaccines said they had a negative impact, or no impact at all, on the conversation.

We must remember that deciding to vaccinate a child is deeply rooted in emotion and a sensitivity to that is a must. And those who focus on and prioritize how they communicate are 14% more likely to see a positive outcome to their disagreement. The old adage still rings true—it’s not only what you say, but how you say it.

Survey Methodology

This survey was fielded by a third-party research partner, Brandish Insights, to a nationally representative sample using a mobile-only survey platform. Data cleaning and statistical analysis were performed using Excel. Data visualization was performed using Datawrapper.

Demographics

Of our total respondents:

  • 50% identified as female; 50% male
  • 5% of respondents were 18-24; 16% were 25-34; 17% were 35-44; 18% were 45-54; 44% were 54+
  • 61% identified as white
  • 58% were parents
  • 22% were from the Midwest; 23% from the West; 38% from the South; 18% from the Northeast

Limitations

While our respondents were very generous with their thoughts and experiences, we did face standard limitations in producing this research. For example, all remotely administered surveys face self-report bias, interpretation error, and can have trouble capturing context for findings.

As is typical in survey-based research, some respondents also showed some inconsistencies in their responses. Those respondents were removed to ensure quality findings.

In addition, the mobile-only survey platform itself had certain limitations. For example, one matrix question yielded inconsistent responses and was thus omitted from final reporting.

Contact Us

If you would like to contact the Verywell team for more information on this survey, please email survey@verywell.com.

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