NHS vaccine texts looked like scams to more than 50 per cent of recipients

  • Date

    Tue 3 May 22

Dr Marie Juanchich

NHS vaccine texts may have put Brits off getting jabbed as more than half believed they were scams, new University of Essex research has revealed.

A study has revealed the lack of information about the vaccines and third-party hyperlinks in the booking mass messages made recipients think they were being targeted by fraudsters.

It found 50.1 per cent thought it was untrustworthy, only 26 per cent of people believed following the link would lead to an NHS page and only 35 per cent would use it to book their appointment.

The study highlighted the inclusion of the outsourcing company” in the booking link –“accurx.thirdparty” – which sparked suspicion.

It comes after regulator Ofcom revealed 45million people were targeted by scam calls and texts last summer.

The Department of Psychology-led research found that communications from local GPs were more effective than boilerplate SMS from NHSvaccine.

It also discovered that giving more information on the benefits of the shots and potential adverse reactions encouraged uptake.

Behavioural psychologist Dr Marie Juanchich launched the study in association with the British Academy in a bid to get more people to have the life-saving injection.

Dr Juanchich said: “Facilitating vaccination is key in public health, especially now that the government has relaxed rules intending to control the COVID epidemics, such as self-isolation and face cover mandates.

“Our work could be used to increase appointment booking for vaccination, but also for cancer screening or recommended annual health check. It will be especially useful to encourage people who lack trust in the healthcare system.”

Dr Juanchich worked with Hazel Sayer and Claire Oakley over the course of three studies where they manipulated who sent the text and what information is included.

In total 16 messages were sent to more than 6,400 people who judged them on trustworthiness.

All the studies found to foster trust in officials should involve family physicians and highlight the competence and warmth of local doctors.

The most effective text expanded on the NHS two sentences to read: “The vaccine reduces your chance of becoming infected and protects you against severe forms of the illness.

“It also protects your loved ones by reducing the risk that you infect others. COVID can be severe don’t risk it.

“This vaccination is especially important for people who are at higher risk from COVID such as older individuals or those from ethnic minorities.

“Vaccines may cause side effects, but the benefits outweigh the risks.

“The most common side effects are very mild (eg.,sore arm, a fever) and severe side effects are very rare (e.g., allergic reaction).”

Professor Simon Goldhill, foreign secretary of the British Academy, said: “This new study research has the advantage of drawing on a valuable combination of clinical and practical knowledge and expertise from the humanities and social sciences.”

“It is part of the British Academy’s programme of research into COVID-19 vaccine engagement in the UK and the US.

“This is a global pandemic, and research benefits enormously from international collaboration and comparison.”