Letter

On the benefits of explaining herd immunity in vaccine advocacy

  • Nature Human Behaviour 1, Article number: 0056 (2017)
  • doi:10.1038/s41562-017-0056
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Abstract

Most vaccines protect both the vaccinated individual and the community at large by building up herd immunity. Even though reaching disease-specific herd immunity thresholds is crucial for eliminating or eradicating certain diseases1,2, explanation of this concept remains rare in vaccine advocacy3. An awareness of this social benefit makes vaccination not only an individual but also a social decision. Although knowledge of herd immunity can induce prosocial vaccination in order to protect others, it can also invite free-riding, in which individuals profit from the protection provided by a well-vaccinated society without contributing to herd immunity themselves. This cross-cultural experiment assesses whether people will be more or less likely to be vaccinated when they know more about herd immunity. Results show that in cultures that focus on collective benefits, vaccination willingness is generally higher. Communicating the concept of herd immunity improved willingness to vaccinate, especially in cultures lacking this prosocial cultural background. Prosocial nudges can thus help to close these immunity gaps.

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Acknowledgements

Funding from the Asia Pacific Alliance for the Control of Influenza (APACI) for C.B. and R.B., as well as from the Excellence Initiative (ZUK II) of the German Research Foundation (DFG) for R.B., is gratefully acknowledged. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript. We thank colleagues in the participating countries for support during data collection (W. J. Kim, S. Kim, M. Kim, M. C. van Egmond, D. Thi The, P. K.S. Chan, M. Khanna, K. Sampson and U. Kühnen), especially K. Sampson of APACI for continuous support during all stages of the study. We thank L. Jennings and F. Renkewitz for comments on earlier versions of this manuscript, and K. Eames for support with the epidemiological underpinnings.

Author information

Affiliations

  1. Center for Empirical Research in Economics and Behavioral Sciences, University of Erfurt, Nordhäuser Straße 63, 99089 Erfurt, Germany

    • Cornelia Betsch
    • , Lars Korn
    •  & Cindy Holtmann
  2. Media and Communication Science, University of Erfurt, Nordhäuser Straße 63, 99089 Erfurt, Germany

    • Cornelia Betsch
    •  & Lars Korn
  3. School of Business and Economics, RWTH Aachen University, Templergraben 64,52062 Aachen, Germany.

    • Robert Böhm

Authors

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Contributions

C.B. and R.B. designed the study, analysed the data and wrote the article. L.K. and C.H. assisted in this process and were responsible for data collection and data management.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Cornelia Betsch.

Supplementary information

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    Supplementary Information

    Supplementary Figures 1–2, Supplementary Tables 1–8, Supplementary Note, Supplementary Methods, Supplementary References.