Transparent communication about negative features of COVID-19 vaccines decreases acceptance but increases trust

During the rapid development and rolling out of vaccines against COVID-19, researchers have called for an approach of “radical transparency,” in which vaccine information is transparently disclosed to the public, even if negative information can decrease vaccine uptake. Consistent with theories about the psychology of conspiracy beliefs, these calls predict that a lack of transparency may reduce trust in health authorities and may facilitate the spread of conspiracy theories, which may limit the long-term capabilities of health authorities during and after the pandemic. On the basis of preregistered experiments conducted on large, representative samples of Americans and Danes (N > 13,000), the current study contrasts the effects of vague vaccine communication with transparent communication, which discloses either positive or negative vaccine features. The evidence demonstrates that transparent negative communication may indeed harm vaccine acceptance here and now but that it increases trust in health authorities. Furthermore, the alternative of vague, reassuring communication does not increase vaccine acceptance either and leads to both lower trust and higher endorsement of conspiracy theories.

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Authors: Aarhus University
Year of publication: 2021
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Content type:  Evaluation
Areas of work: Social science
Region: Global

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