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Tracking Anti-Vax Sentiment: a Breakdown of Immunization in the US

woman-being-vaccinatedDuring the last week of April, at least 180 countries celebrate World Immunization Week as part of the World Health Organization (WHO) efforts to raise awareness and promote the use of vaccines globally. Ironically, this observance follows on the heels of a multi-state outbreak of measles early this year and nearly 500 cases of mumps in Franklin County, Ohio in 2014. The resurgence of these diseases — and the potential for others like polio, diphtheria and tetanus to make a comeback — lies, in part, with the anti-vax movement.

Fueled by fraudulent research and rumors, thousands of parents, themselves beneficiaries of preventative vaccines, have opted not to follow recommended immunization guidelines for their own children. Now healthcare providers must devise more effective patient engagement strategies to turn the tide of anti-vax sentiment before outbreaks become more serious.

Closing the Immunization Gap at Home

The theme for World Immunization Week this year is “Close the Immunization Gap.” While this theme focuses on the global need, particularly in developing countries, to improve access to vaccines, healthcare providers in the U.S. face a gap of a different nature.

In a Forbes blog this past January, Steven Salzberg, a professor of biomedical engineering, computer science, and biostatistics in the Institute of Genetic Medicine at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, wrote, “What’s sad about this — tragic, really — is that we eliminated measles from the U.S. in the year 2000, thanks to the measles vaccine. But we had 644 cases in 27 states in 2014, the most in 20 years. And 2015 is already on track to be worse.”

Salzberg went on to say, “Until now, each outbreak was caused by someone traveling from abroad and bringing measles to us. The anti-vaccine movement has turned this public health victory into defeat.” And this, despite the fact that the WHO credits immunization as one of the most successful and cost-effective health interventions available, preventing between 2 to 3 million deaths annually. 

Crafting the Right Message to Motivate Anti-Vax Parents

Healthcare providers are only too aware of the impact a disease like the measles or polio can have. The downside of the virtual elimination of these diseases, however, is that they seem less threatening to healthcare consumers who have never witnessed the suffering, complications or deaths that were once commonplace. And, according to a study by researchers from Dartmouth College, communicating with parents about the dangers of vaccines can be difficult. The researchers shared four different messages with survey participants:

  • One message addressed the autism myth and offered online resources disproving any relationship between vaccines and autism.
  • One message highlighted the complications of various immunization-preventable diseases.
  • One message was the true story of a child who contracted measles during a visit to the pediatrician.
  • One message contained photographs of children who had contracted the disease.

Rather than encouraging parents, the messages backfired, particularly those that identified complications or showed images, actually led to a 6.1 percent increase in the number of parents who felt the messages reinforced their suspicion that vaccines should be avoided — a clear disconnect from the intention of these communications.

The lesson to be learned here is that healthcare providers must develop patient engagement strategies that are based on individual motivations, beliefs and attitudes towards health and wellness. PatientBond’s psychographic segmentation model sorts healthcare consumers into five distinct segments — Balance Seekers, Willful Endurers, Priority Jugglers, Self Achievers and Direction Takers. According to the PatientBond Consumer Diagnostic, a nationally representative survey of 4,039 consumers, 29% of respondents acknowledged that they had avoided a vaccine because of a negative experience or negative stories regarding bad effects.

That number changed, however, depending on the psychographic segment:

  • 39 percent of Balance Seekers said they had avoided a vaccine due to negative experiences or stories
  • Only 20 percent of Priority Jugglers responded likewise

This shows a clear difference between the Balance Seekers, who are wellness oriented, but seek out many sources of information on which to base their decisions about healthcare, and the Priority Jugglers, who are proactive about their family’s health, but more inclined to respect traditional medical sources of information.

Each psychographic segment has its own unique motivations and communication preferences. A message that works for one psychographic segment may not work for another.  Patient engagement strategies must, therefore, adjust to meet the distinct needs of these different segments. 

PatientBond is collaborating with Analytic Marketing Innovations (AMI) to append our market research data from the PatientBond Consumer Diagnostic with KBM Group’s AmeriLINK® database, which includes 240 million consumers. This will allow us to develop and offer propensity models and contact lists of consumers who are the most likely to exhibit certain characteristics, such as the PatientBond Psychographic Segment with which they identify and anti-vax attitudes. This will help healthcare providers anticipate such issues and engage patients in segment-specific ways.

Read more about the psychographic differences among healthcare consumers in our whitepaper or contact PatientBond to arrange a consultation.

Psychographic Segmentation and its Practical Application in Patient Engagement and Behavior Change


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