The Messenger Matters: Religious Leaders and Overcoming COVID-19 Vaccine Hesitancy

The Messenger Matters: Religious Leaders and Overcoming COVID-19 Vaccine Hesitancy

By Filip Viskupič and David L. Wiltse, South Dakota State University

Experts agree that vaccination is the most effective way to bring the COVID-19 pandemic under control. Nevertheless, vaccination rates have slowed nationwide and substantial segments of the population report an unwillingness to get vaccinated. We conducted an online survey experiment to investigate whether endorsement messages from various types of leaders can encourage the unvaccinated population to receive the vaccine. We surveyed 709 unvaccinated registered voters in South Dakota in April 2021 and presented them with identical messages endorsing vaccination from a political, religious, or medical leader. Our results show that messaging from a religious leader had a positive and statistically significant effect on interest in getting vaccinated, whereas messages from a political or medical leader had no statistically significant effect. These results strongly suggest that religious leaders are more effective messengers than other potential messengers and that public health officials would be well served to coordinate their efforts with leaders in faith communities.

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