Age may rival politics in COVID-19 vaccine debate

New research from the University of Georgia suggests age and risk perception may have as much of an effect on COVID-19 vaccine acceptance as party affiliation.

“There’s been a lot of attention to political ideology as a barrier to COVID-19 vaccination acceptance,” said Glen Nowak, corresponding author of the study and professor in Grady College. “What we found in our survey was that’s not so much true as people get older. Current CDC coverage data affirms this. People who are 65 and older are almost universally vaccinated, particularly as you start getting to 75 and older.”

The nationally representative survey of more than 1,000 people examined how demographic characteristics—such as age and sex, political ideology and news source preference—related to views on COVID-19 and vaccine intent.

Respondents who were age 50 or older considered themselves more at risk for severe illness from the coronavirus. And they were more concerned that catching the virus would negatively impact their daily lives.

Younger Americans were less likely to consider themselves at risk of severe illness. They’re also less likely to worry about contracting the virus and less likely to keep themselves up to date on the latest COVID-related news.

“Looking at 18- to 29-year-olds, it’s not surprising that they are the group with the lowest overall COVID vaccination rates because they’re not a group that is suffering serious illness and death from COVID,” said Nowak, who also serves as co-director of UGA’s Center for Health and Risk Communication. “Are there instances of that? Absolutely. But it’s relatively rare. I think many people in that age group understand that.”

Glen Nowak talks with WSET about COVID-19 vaccination research findings.

More COVID-19 information isn’t always better 

Published in the International Journal of Strategic Communication, the study found that political affiliation and where participants got their news were the most consistent predictors of how an individual felt about their COVID-19 risk level and their vaccine intent.

Liberals in the study viewed the virus as a bigger threat to their daily lives than conservatives. They worried about becoming ill, believed symptoms would be severe and expressed concern that they could pass the disease to others. They were also more likely to accept the vaccine and trust authority figures like the CDC and FDA.

Both liberals and moderates believed medical care and treatment would be more difficult to access than conservatives.

Surprisingly, people who said they get their COVID-19 news from a variety of sources, both conservative and liberal, were more likely to be vaccine hesitant than those who stuck to partisan news sources.

“If you had asked us before we this study, we would have said pretty confidently that people who were looking at a wide array of information would be much more likely to be vaccinated and have much more confidence in the vaccine,” Nowak said. “What this suggested was the opposite in many instances. Many people who tried or said that they looked at a broad spectrum of information sources came away less confident and more uncertain about the vaccine and its value.”

Public health should tailor messages to the right audiences 

The differences between participants on the right, left or middle highlight the need to tailor COVID-19 messaging to different populations, Nowak said.

Those who aren’t in a high-risk category, like young adults, quickly realize that they’re unlikely to get really sick from the coronavirus and largely tune out public health education efforts.

Communications to these populations should focus on more realistic situations for them, Nowak said. For example, emphasize that there aren’t great treatments available to treat patients if they are one of the few who do need hospitalization.

“This data shows you can’t assume interest and attention from younger people and those who are less affected by COVID-19,” Nowak said. “It’s a good reminder that we can’t just blast, ‘Everybody should be afraid of getting severe COVID.’ That’s not an effective communication strategy.”

This study was co-authored by Michael Cacciatore, an associate professor in the Grady College and co-director of the Center for Health and Risk Communications.


Editor’s Note: This release was originally posted on the UGA News website.

 

Michael Cacciatore awarded $2.5 million grant for research

Funds from the U.S. National Science Foundation support research for PBS TERRA, a science-themed hub on YouTube

Michael Cacciatore, co-director of the Center for Health and Risk Communication at Grady College, has been awarded a $2.5 million grant from the U.S. National Science Foundation’s Advancing Informal STEM Learning program.

The funds will provide research for PBS Digital Studios’ TERRA, its science-themed hub on YouTube, as they launch a new slate of STEM content.

Dr. Cacciatore is a co-principal investigator for the grant that also includes Dr. Sara Yeo of the University of Utah.

The grant from NSF will support a two-pronged PBS initiative to create STEM-related, short-form videos and conduct follow-up research to better understand how and why these videos attract underrepresented groups.

“Dr. Cacciatore’s work exemplifies the very best in collaborative research on issues of great importance,” said Charles N. Davis, dean of Grady College. “It’s a reminder that all grant-funded research contains a communicative element, and that Grady College faculty can help design and implement rock-solid empirical studies of message design and effectiveness.”

Cacciatore explains that PBS not only wants to expand its audience with new and underserved audiences, but the organization also recognizes the importance of bringing research into decisions so they are informed by data. He expects part of the research to focus on the role of humor in communicating science, an area PBS already utilizes and that Cacciatore studies.

“For me, this project builds naturally from a lot of the work I’m already doing on humor as a tool for science engagement,” Cacciatore, an associate professor in the Department of Advertising and Public Relations, said of the three-year grant. “At the same time, this project places more of an emphasis on the practical side of things. We’ll have a chance to collect data, analyze the underlying trends in that data, and then see our work influence the content PBS is producing.”

Cacciatore is excited to work with content producers like PBS.

“From an institutional perspective, I love the idea of PBS, arguably the most important provider of educational programming, partnering with UGA, the birthplace of higher education. I think it’s a perfect marriage,” Cacciatore said.

Currently, YouTube’s most popular STEM creators are disproportionately white and male, and viewer data and PBS surveys suggest that Black and Hispanic viewers, as well as women overall, are underrepresented in audiences for STEM content online. With support from the NSF grant, PBS Digital Studios aims to remedy this by expanding PBS TERRA to new, diverse audiences, and examining its impact.

Specifically, PBS Digital Studios plans to launch new series and create special episodes for existing series that explore STEM through a variety of lenses, including humor and popular culture. These STEM series will feature underrepresented voices, especially Black and Hispanic science communicators, in front of and behind the camera and seeks to broaden the audience for STEM content online.

“With the help of NSF, we hope to inspire the next generation of scientists by offering diverse and educational programming in a new way. At PBS, we are committed to presenting viewers with topical content that they cannot find anywhere else— and PBS TERRA is a perfect example. This is incredibly important work, and we are excited to innovate with STEM content and study the impact this content has within underrepresented communities,” said Sylvia Bugg, Chief Programming Executive and General Manager, General Audience Programming at PBS.

The research will be used to show how these groups search for and engage with content related to science, technology, engineering and math. Cacciatore and Yeo will also test hypotheses on the effects of STEM videos featuring scientists and experts that are women, Black and/or Hispanic presenting science content in a variety of ways. A goal of the project is to measure audiences’ attitudes and engagement with science as well as their perceptions of scientists.

The NSF’s AISL program seeks to advance new approaches to and evidence-based understanding of the design and development of STEM learning opportunities for the public in informal environments; provide multiple pathways for broadening access to and engagement in STEM learning experiences; advance innovative research on and assessment of STEM learning in informal environments; and engage the public of all ages in learning STEM in informal environments.

Adult influenza vaccination this season higher likely to be highest ever

More U.S. adults 18 years old and older reported receiving or planning to receive an influenza vaccination during the 2020-2021 flu season than ever before according to findings from a December 2020 national survey. A total of 43.5% respondents reported having already received a flu vaccination, with an additional 13.5% stating they “definitely will get one” and another 9.3% stating they “probably will get one.” Together, this represents 66.3% of respondents who have received or intend to receive the influenza vaccine.

By comparison, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimated flu vaccination coverage among adults ≥18 years was 48.4% for the 2019-2020 flu season, which was an increase of 3.1 percentage points from 2018-2019.

The findings come from a December 2020, national survey of 1,027 U.S. adults conducted by researchers at the University of Georgia Center for Health and Risk Communication in the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication. The survey was led by Professor Glen Nowak, CHRC director and Associate Professor Michael Cacciatore, CHRC research director. The respondents came from the National Opinion Research Center’s AmeriSpeak panel. The AmeriSpeak panel uses a pre-screened, nationally representative pool of participants, to obtain rapid and projectable survey findings.

“Our survey shows that most Americans have or planned to act on the advice to get a flu vaccination this season,” said Nowak. “Further, these results strongly suggest the U.S. will be crossing an important threshold this flu season, which is over half of U.S. adults getting a flu vaccination.”

The survey results indicate much of the increase in flu vaccine uptake is being driven by people 60 years old and older. A total of 61.5% said they had already received the influenza vaccine in December, with another 12.0% stating they “would definitely get it” and 5.8% stating they “would probably get it.”

The survey results also indicated many demographic differences existed when it came to having received a flu vaccination. Forty-eight percent of white respondents reported having a flu vaccination by December, compared to 35.1% of Hispanic respondents and 30.1% of Black respondents. Having already received a flu vaccination was also much higher for respondents with a college or higher education and those with annual household incomes of $75,000 a year or more. Conversely, flu vaccination uptake and plans to get a flu vaccination were lowest for those 18-29 years old, those with some college or a high school education, and those with annual incomes less than $25,000. The survey found that 50.7% of those making more than $75,000 had already been vaccinated for the flu, while only 35% of those making less than $25,000 had been vaccinated.

“It was disappointing to see that significant differences by race, age, education, and income persisted during a flu vaccination season that took place during a COVID pandemic,” Cacciatore said. “It’s important that we continue to learn more about why these disparities exist so we can take steps that will reduce them.”

“Overall, it is good news to find that many people, particularly those at highest risk for serious flu or COVID-19 illness, followed the advice to get the flu vaccine. Hopefully, we can sustain that level of success in the years ahead,” Nowak said.  “It also remains worrisome to find much lower flu vaccination rates and intentions in so many groups. We continue to have much work to do among Hispanic and Black adults and those with lower income and years of formal education when it comes to flu vaccination.”

(Graphic: UGA Marketing & Communication)

More people getting flu vaccine this year

Compared with last year more adults getting and intending to get a flu vaccination in 2018-19 flu season

More Americans have or intend to get a flu vaccine this fall, according to a new survey by the University of Georgia’s Grady College of Journalism & Mass Communication Center for Health and Risk Communication.

The nationwide survey of 1,020 U.S. adults, conducted between Oct. 16 and Nov. 5, 2018, found that 27 percent of respondents indicated they had already received a flu vaccination this fall, with another 21 percent indicating they would definitely receive one and 13 percent indicating they would probably receive one.

Among adults 65 years old and older, 46 percent said they had already received one.

Overall, about one in five respondents said they definitely would not get a flu vaccination in this flu season, while 16 percent said they probably would not do so. In the 2017-2018 influenza season, CDC surveys found 37 percent of all adults received an annual flu vaccination, the lowest level in seven years.

“The initial findings regarding this year’s flu vaccination are positive and encouraging – they suggest things started well,” said Glen Nowak, professor and director of the Grady College CHRC. “One in four adults indicated they were vaccinated by early November and a large majority said it would be very easy to get a flu vaccination if they wanted one. The potential exists that a larger percentage of U.S. adults than last year will ultimately get a flu vaccination in the 2018-19 season and that overall flu vaccination rates in the U.S. may return to the 43 percent to 45 percent seen prior to last season.”

The survey was designed by Nowak and Michael Cacciatore, assistant professor and research director for the Grady College CHRC, and carried out by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago. Funding for the survey was provided by the Grady College of Journalism & Mass Communication and Razorfish Health, a healthcare communications agency.

Respondents were sampled from the NORC AmeriSpeaks panel, a probability-based panel designed to be representative of the U.S. household population. Overall results from this survey have a margin of error of +/- 4.24 percent.

The CDC recommends routine annual influenza vaccination of all persons 6 months of age and older, unless there is a health or medical reason not to do so.

However, while the survey found that 74 percent of respondents said an annual flu vaccination was something that was recommended for someone their age, 13 percent said it was not and 11 percent were unsure. The survey found that 61 percent of those who were aware of the recommendation received a flu vaccination in the past 12 months compared to 14 percent of those who were unaware.

The survey also found strong positive links between flu vaccination and age and receiving a recommendation from one’s doctor or healthcare provider. Two out of three respondents said a physician or healthcare provider told them in the past year that they should receive a flu vaccination.

Overall, 66 percent of those getting such a recommendation got a flu vaccination in the past year compared to 20 percent among those who did not receive a recommendation. With respect to age, 69 percent of respondents 65 years old and older reported receiving a flu vaccination in the past 12 months, compared to 52 percent of 50-64 year olds, 44 percent of 31-49 year olds, and 34 percent of 19-30 year olds.

The CHRC findings are being released during National Influenza Vaccination Week, which is December 2-8, 2018. CDC established NIVW in 2005 to highlight the importance of continuing flu vaccination through the holiday season and beyond.

Studies from many influenza seasons have consistently shown that relatively few people get vaccinated against influenza after the end of November. According to the CDC, more than 160 million doses of flu vaccine have been distributed this season.

“These results highlight the importance of efforts like National Influenza Vaccination Week in helping people follow through on their intentions to get vaccinated,” Nowak said. “It’s likely many of those intending to get vaccinated still need to do so, and they need to know that it is not too late.

Richard B. Russell Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching: Michael Cacciatore

Michael Cacciatore, assistant professor of public relations, was one of three UGA faculty members awarded the Richard B. Russell Award for Excellence in Undergraduate in April 2018. The following provides background if his teaching style and impact on students.

The old adage “That’s the way we’ve always done it” is not part of Michael Cacciatore’s philosophy.

Instead, he thrives on constantly tweaking his curriculum to bring current, relevant examples to his classes while engaging and connecting with his students. This is no easy task considering that he teaches Introduction to Public Relations, which has nearly 300 students this semester, and Public Relations Research, a smaller class averaging about 40 students. Cacciatore also has restructured the curriculum for his large lecture class, placing an increased emphasis on writing, based on feedback received from industry professionals.

“Dr. Cacciatore has a commitment to assuring that student engagement is maintained through interaction within the classroom, through engagement with current issues and practices within the industry and with his own keen intellectual interest in the intersection of teaching and scholarship,” said Charles N. Davis, dean of Grady College.

Cacciatore is always thinking about what is best for his students, whether it is coming in on a Saturday to catch up with them on concepts or accepting a fellowship to spend time in the field and bring real-world applications back to his class. He assumed additional teaching responsibilities when another faculty member fell ill and added a Maymester course to help students who needed the class to graduate.

In addition to the Russell Award, Michael Cacciatore was also named the Teacher of the Year in Advertising, an award presented by Bryan Reber (l.) in April 2018. This marks the third time he was won this award.

Cacciatore credits his teaching drive to his colleagues at Grady College.

“If it wasn’t for the kind of people who I see around me doing it right, and the emphasis that was placed on teaching when I interviewed here, I wouldn’t be receiving an award like this,” he said.

The respect is mutual.

He has been a faculty member at Grady College since 2013, and during that short time, he has won Teacher of the Year honors, based on a faculty vote, three times. In addition to his ability to engage students, Cacciatore is adept at making his students energized about a class like Public Relations Research that may seem daunting at the beginning. He does this by relating core concepts to everyday topics.

In addition to the education, it is Cacciatore’s character and ability to connect that earn him praise from current and former students.

Leila Knox, a former student, said, “Professor Cacciatore has an unparalleled commitment to his students’ learning. His distinct teaching style incorporates different learning methods so that every single student has the opportunity to excel.”

Former student Skyler Horne summed up feelings that many students share: “Professor Cacciatore is a great educator. He already has won this award in the hearts and minds of his students.”