New tool tackles vaccine hesitancy with self reflection, not bombardment of information

DURHAM, N.C. (WTVD) -- The rate of COVID-19 vaccinations is slowing in North Carolina, but one Durham company is hoping a new online program will help reach people still hesitant.

My Move is an online program recently published by the Durham based company People Designs. It is an interactive online experience that walks users through a series of questions that force them to speak out loud their opinions and feelings regarding the COVID-19 vaccines.

Rather than trying to decrease hesitancy by giving information or correcting misinformation, My Move directs individuals to their internal motivations.

"What we are feeling is that a lot of people are just sort of bombarded with external information that is often times contradictory, and that--through this model--that focuses on self-persuasion. They can sort of tap into internal motivations that have to do with health and community and family and things like that to make a decision that actually matches who they are," explained David Farrell, the president of People Designs.

The intervention program aims to have people connect their internal motivations and values to their decision of whether to get vaccinated. Farrell said when people make decisions based on internal values, they usually last longer than decisions made based on things like marketing or misinformation.

"Some people are going to make a decision that they don't like the vaccine, and it's possible that they'll use this program and that might even cement that decision, but I think we've found that it tends to go the other way, and that when they do make that decision, they're more likely to follow through with it and maintain it," Farrell said.

While My Move recently launched, it's modeled after a previous study that targeted HPV vaccines. Farrell said researchers found the self-persuasion tactic did decrease hesitancy for many participants.

"It was targeted to parents to try and help them make a decision about getting their kids vaccinated. It showed some positive results, and once vaccines started to appear on the scene for COVID-19 we thought: why not try and see if it works with that too," Farrell explained.

The U.S. Census estimated around 15% of North Carolina adults are hesitant about the COVID-19 vaccine. The pool of people on the fence is slowly decreasing as the Census estimated 27% were hesitant in January. The top reasons include fear of side effects, not believing in vaccines, and not trusting it.

Just over half of eligible adults in North Carolina are partially vaccinated.

The goal for My Move is for local health departments and large organizations to use it to connect their members with the intervention. Individuals who are hesitant can get to the root of their feelings about the vaccine, and if they determine they do want to get vaccinated, the program can refer them to a location.

Currently, Farrell said around a dozen organizations across the country are in the process of rolling out the program.

Beyond the pandemic, Farrell sees this approach having a wider impact.

"We're hopeful that in the future we'll apply this to other health behaviors as well, so certainly other vaccine-related behaviors, but other kind of periodic health system utilization behaviors," Farrell said. "You know, people are hesitant to use the health system for various reasons, not just related to vaccines so it's hopefully a steppingstone to more of these kinds of programs."
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