Colleges and universities offer important experiences such as residential education, social opportunities, laboratory work, and artistic spaces for the development of young adults. Social interactions on college campuses that are an integral part of these spaces were disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic complying with public health protocols to control virus transmission.
Factors affecting vaccine hesitancy among college students and effective health message on campuses
As vaccines for COVID-19 are being developed and approved, these academic spaces are planning to safely reopen once 60-70% of the student population gets immunized. Reaching high population immunity levels by fall 2021 is crucial for colleges and universities that are hoping to reopen for in-person learning and other pre-pandemic activities in classrooms, event venues, and dorms. High vaccine coverage is critical for protecting students, staff, faculty, and the residents of nearby communities.
Effective management of vaccine-preventable infectious diseases on college campuses requires understanding the intentions behind student vaccination. This understanding is crucial for developing and customizing health messaging to boost uptake of health information as well as vaccines.
While knowledge about vaccine-related concerns can help inform health communication and intervention efforts, a better understanding of how these concerns impact vaccination behavior is also very important. Many factors, including trust in the evaluation system, concerns about adverse effects, and political or religious views of the students, impact vaccine hesitancy on college campuses. Understanding these factors help with effective message development and delivery.
"Tailoring messages to address the factors most likely to impact specific college students’ beliefs and behaviors can increase vaccination rates in the near term and may also help build a foundation of trust in the scientific process."
Exploring student beliefs and attitudes about currently available COVID-19 vaccines
A recent study conducted by researchers at Pennsylvania State University in the US explored the beliefs and attitudes of students about vaccination in general and the COVID-19 vaccines in particular. This study is published on the medRxiv* preprint server.
Data for the study were collected using an online survey of college students 18 years and above residing on campus or nearby a large public university in fall 2020. Data were collected between October and December 2020 before the vaccines for COVID-19 became available. Students were recruited for the study by email invitation through the university. Eligibility requirements also included students being enrolled part-time or full-time during the fall 2020 semester.
Concerns about adverse effects of vaccines cause COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy among college students
The results of the study offer insights into the need for effective health messaging to rapidly increase COVID-19 vaccination rates in colleges. The messaging should contain information about a wide range of pathogens that will continue to be relevant in the near future.
Overall, the findings showed that COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy among college students is strongly associated with concerns about vaccines in general and concerns specific to the new COVID-19 vaccines.
Taken together, these results provide further insight for message development and delivery and can inform more effective interventions to advance critical public health outcomes on college campuses beyond the current pandemic.”
Findings will help development and delivery of health messages and inform more effective healthcare interventions
Since predictors of vaccine hesitancy can change over time, ongoing research is crucial to detect newly emerging issues. Tailoring healthcare messages to address the most common factors affecting the beliefs and behaviors of college students can improve vaccination rates and may also boost trust in the scientific process behind vaccines.
The authors believe that these results offer insights that will help the development and delivery of health messages and inform more effective healthcare interventions to advance critical health outcomes on college campuses during potential future healthcare crises. Also, since college students are in a developmental stage, it is a crucial setting for learning critical thinking and analysis of scientific information before making decisions related to their health and wellbeing.
The researchers conclude:
The current vaccination context provides a potentially high return on investment for immediate and future public health.”
medRxiv publishes preliminary scientific reports that are not peer-reviewed and, therefore, should not be regarded as conclusive, guide clinical practice/health-related behavior, or treated as established information.