Web-Based Program Effectively Persuades Vaccine-Hesitant Mothers to Vaccinate Themselves, Their Infants

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Among the participants who were initially unsure or hesitant about vaccination, 82% received flu and Tdap vaccines during pregnancy after the online intervention.

A web-based program to educate mothers about how to find reliable health information and the dangers of vaccine-preventable illnesses was effective in persuading vaccine-hesitant mothers to vaccinate both themselves and their infants, according to a study from researchers at the New York University Rory Meyers College of Nursing.

A significant number of parents question the value of vaccines for their infants and themselves, despite decades of scientific research and national recommendations supporting their use. Hesitation can be particularly strong during pregnancy. Although some parents completely refuse vaccines, others are simply reluctant, unsure, or concerned about 1 or more vaccines.

Disinformation can fuel these concerns and make parents less likely to vaccinate themselves and their children, according to the researchers.

“Disinformation is a major factor in vaccine hesitancy, which has been very evidence throughout the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Donna Hallas, CPNP, FAAN, FAANP, PhD, PMHS, PPCNP-BC, director of the Pediatric Nurse Practitioner program and a clinical professor at the NYU Rory Meyers College of Nursing, in a press release. “Social media allows disinformation to spread rapidly, stoking fear and mistrust.”

Hallas and her colleagues designed a web-based program to develop new mothers’ abilities to recognize vaccine disinformation on social media platforms and antivax websites, educate them about the consequences of vaccine-preventable illnesses, and empower them to make informed decisions.

The study included 141 pregnant women who were approached about the study at an obstetrics/gynecology practice and 124 mothers of newborns recruited in a postpartum hospital unit. The investigators surveyed each group to determine their attitudes about vaccines for themselves during pregnancy and vaccinating their children, including questions about their immunization behaviors, beliefs about vaccine safety and efficacy, attitudes about vaccine mandates and exemptions, and trust in health care providers and information they receive.

Participants who readily accepted vaccines were assigned to the control groups, whereas those who were hesitant about vaccines were placed in the intervention groups to take part in the online program. Those who refused vaccines completely were not included in the study, but the investigators are planning future research focused on this population.

During the first part of the intervention, vaccine-hesitant pregnant women and mothers were shown videos and resources to educate them about vaccines, as well as how to seek out trustworthy information from reliable sources and avoid disinformation. Participants who were still hesitant entered a second phase of the intervention, in which they watched a brief video by the parent of an infant in the pediatric intensive care unit sick with either the flu or pertussis, highlighting the parents’ realization that their child was suffering from a preventable illness.

“Showing vaccine-hesitant individuals a brief video of how ill a child can become from a vaccine-preventable disease appeared to be an effective strategy to help them make an informed decision,” Halas said in the press release. “No parent wants the first-hand experience of a sick child in the hospital, but this was a reality for many this fall and winter. More than 100 children have died from the flu—a disease against which we have an effective vaccine—and tens of thousands of children were hospitalized with [respiratory syncytial virus], which may soon have an FDA-approved vaccine. Empowering mothers with skills for vetting health information and showing them the reality of vaccine-preventable diseases can help move them from hesitancy to acceptance.”

Among the participants who were initially unsure or hesitant about vaccination, 82% received by flu and Tdap vaccines during pregnancy after the online intervention. In addition, 74% of all mothers of newborns fully immunized their infants, although it was difficult to compare vaccine-hesitant mothers with vaccine-accepting mothers due to a large group of infants with unavailable vaccine data.

The study also highlighted the value of an online intervention that reaches prospective or new parents where they are. The study was conducted online with the exception of in-person recruitment.

“The decision to use all online materials and interventions was based on the knowledge that social media influences decision-making, especially regarding immunization of expectant mothers,” Hallas said in the press release.

REFERENCE

Online Program Prompts Vaccination Among Vaccine-Hesitant Mothers. News release. NYU Rory Meyers College of Nursing. March 8, 2023. Accessed March 13, 2023. https://www.nyu.edu/about/news-publications/news/2023/march/online-program-prompts-vaccination-among-vaccine-hesitant-mother.html

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