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Nudge Patients to Boost Vaccinations, Study Says


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Medical vials and Syringe

As vaccination rates decline, researchers are proposing new tactics to get more people immunized against preventable diseases.

Even if people understand why immunizations are important, they may need a push in the right direction to get them moving, according to Dr. Noel Brewer, a health and behavior scientist at the University of North Carolina.

Brewer is the lead author of a new study that says you can’t change people’s behaviors about vaccines by simply giving them facts about potential health risks.

Instead, the study found it was more effective to give people a “nudge.”

Doctors, for example, could automatically schedule vaccinations for their patients and send them phone and text reminders about appointments, the report says.

Employers could provide incentives to boost vaccination rates. One company studied by researchers used prompts to encourage employees to get flu shots.

When employees were asked to give a date for when they planned to get a flu shot, vaccinations rose by 1.5 percent.

But flu vaccinations increased by 4 percent when the company asked for not only a date but a specific time.

That detail and others are included in the report, Increasing Vaccination: Putting Psychological Science Into Action, which was released last month. It comes amid dropping vaccination rates and rising fears of preventable disease outbreaks.

Measles Outbreaks Linked to Unfounded Fears

Public health officials declared the measles disease eliminated from the U.S. in 2000. But measles largely persists in this country because of unvaccinated people, according to the Centers for Disease and Prevention Control.

Just last year, Minnesota public health officials confirmed 79 cases of measles. About 22 people were hospitalized with high fever, breathing problems and dehydration.

Experts noted the Somali community took the hardest hit. Unfounded fears about a link between childhood vaccination and autism persists in the Somali-Minnesota community.

Such fears are often traced to a since-retracted paper by former British doctor Andrew Wakefield published in The Lancet in 1998.

He lost his medical credentials for deceit after the purported link between the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine and autism was debunked.

Misinformation about vaccines can prevent people from getting protected against serious diseases. Delaying or spreading out vaccination is also a concern even when patients do not actively refuse vaccines.

Study: Brief Statements Help Boost Vaccinations

Brewer and his team of researchers also found in an earlier study that “less is more” when it comes to having conversations with parents and teens about the HPV vaccine.

The HPV vaccine protects against the sexually transmitted disease called the human papillomavirus. This disease can cause warts and certain cancers.

Brewer found vaccination rates to increase by 5 percent when doctors used “brief, assertive statements” to discuss the vaccine.

“It’s much more effective at visits to say the child is due for several vaccines,” Brewer told The Washington Post. Brewer thinks it’s better psychologically for patients to see vaccinations as routine.

Brewer added, of course, if parents have questions, then doctors should answer them, but in “short statements.”

Kristin Compton
Written By Kristin Compton Writer

Kristin Compton's background is in legal studies. She worked as a paralegal before joining Drugwatch as a writer and researcher. She was also a member of the National Association of Legal Assistants. A mother and longtime patient, she has firsthand experience of the harmful effects prescription drugs can have on women and their children. Some of her qualifications include:

  • Bachelor of Arts in Legal Studies | Pre-Law from University of West Florida
  • Past employment with The Health Law Firm and Kerrigan, Estess, Rankin, McLeod & Thompson LLC
  • Personal experience battling severe food allergies, asthma and high-risk pregnancies
Edited By

5 Cited Research Articles writers follow rigorous sourcing guidelines and cite only trustworthy sources of information, including peer-reviewed journals, court records, academic organizations, highly regarded nonprofit organizations, government reports and interviews with qualified experts. Review our editorial policy to learn more about our process for producing accurate, current and balanced content.

  1. Brewer, N.T. et al. (2018, April 3). Increasing Vaccination: Putting Psychological Science Into Action. Retrieved from
  2. Wan, W. (2018, April 4). People can’t be educated into vaccinations, but behavioral nudges help, study finds. Retrieved from
  3. Neighmond, P. (2016, December 5). Advice For Doctors Talking To Parents About HPV Vaccine: Make It Brief. Retrieved from
  4. Sun, L.H. (2017, August 21). Despite measles outbreak, anti-vaccine activists in Minnesota refuse to back down. Retrieved from
  5. Milkman, K.L. et al. (2011, June 28). Using implementation intentions prompts to enhance influenza vaccination rates. Retrieved from
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