Managing college students’ COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy

With nearly half of students in one university's survey saying they would not get vaccinated, or aren't sure if they would, a marketing professor offers ideas for administrators to help more students make the best decision for public health.
By: | January 8, 2021
Getty Images, Andriy OnufriyenkoGetty Images, Andriy Onufriyenko

Students at a midsized public university in Connecticut were just surveyed to determine the extent of their vaccine hesitancy regarding coronavirus vaccines. The random sample consisted of 592 graduate and undergraduate students. The survey asked: “Will you be vaccinated for the coronavirus when vaccines are available to you?” And the results: 299 (50.6%) responded yes, 176 (29.8%) responded no, and 114 (19.3%) responded not sure.

C. Kevin Synnott, Eastern Connecticut State University

C. Kevin Synnott, Eastern Connecticut State University

The sample consisted of 378 (64.0%) female students and 206 (34.90%) male students, and respondents were segmented by year in school as follows: (a) 144 (24.4%) students were freshmen; (b) 116 (19.6%) students were sophomores; (c)154 (26.1%) students were juniors; and (d) 154 (26.1%) students were seniors. Students’ comments regarding why they would not be vaccinated or why they were not sure indicated that they needed more information.

The implications for college and university administrators are clear. The issues must be addressed. It is clear from the students’ comments that their main concern is fear of the unknown. They do not have enough information to decide whether to be vaccinated. Information campaigns must begin now.

About 50% of students surveyed by one university said they don't plan to get the COVID vaccine or they aren't sure. Many do not have enough information to decide. Vaccination campaigns from campus officials must begin now. #higheredClick To Tweet

Administrators have many options available to them, using proven ways to publicize information.

Students like to read. Written cards with updated information regarding vaccines can be placed on tables in food courts and other dining service locations. Changing cards regularly ensures that students will read the new ones and not ignore them. Information on different paper formats and chalk on walkways also draw students’ attention. Flyers can be posted around campus in classrooms, bus stop enclosed areas, and so forth.

Games are popular with students. Clubs on campus have many ways to raise funds. They have tables in different locations throughout the campus when fundraising. Involving different clubs is a good way to distribute facts about the vaccine. For example, students can be asked prepared questions regarding vaccine safety and if they are correct they can win items with the school’s name, such as keychains, pens, notebooks, and so forth. They can also win donuts and other food items.

Social media is an excellent way to reach college students. Facebook (i.e., for some, not many), Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, YouTube and so forth are platforms that can be used to disseminate information.

All campaigns designed to disseminate information regarding the importance of being vaccinated for the coronavirus should include a word-of-mouth component. It is well known that word-of-mouth sells products, services, and ideas. For example, advertisements on all media platforms might encourage people who are vaccinated to encourage five of their friends to get the vaccination.

Administrators in Student Affairs might offer students with proof that they have been vaccinated upscale items with the school name, such as hoodies, T-shirts, backpacks, and the like. Administrators who employ combinations of these campaigns can provide the facts students are seeking. This is important for all students, especially those who said no or were not sure, if they would be vaccinated for the coronavirus.

C. Kevin Synnott is a lecturer in the Department of Business Administration, Management and Marketing, at Eastern Connecticut State University. His research and papers on the Social Science Research Network can be found here.