17 Dec.
2020

Determining how social networks will affect vaccine uptake

Although the first COVID-19 vaccine was widely rolled out in the UK this week, there is still a long way ahead to achieve mass immunisation targets.

A crucial question over coming months will be the extent to which vaccines are taken up by the wider public and, importantly, the extent to which an individual’s decision on whether to take the vaccine or not will be influenced by a social network.

With this in mind Dr Yu-Wang Chen, Senior Lecturer in Decision Sciences, has developed an integrated model of multiple criteria modelling and social network analysis to characterise the socially influenced vaccination decision-making process.

As he explains: “Understanding the socially influenced decision-making process that determines voluntary vaccination is essential for developing strategies and interventions of vaccine-preventable diseases. Both theoretical and experimental studies have suggested that a variety of factors, such as safety of vaccines, severity of diseases, and information and advice from healthcare professionals, influence an individual's intention to vaccinate.

“However, limited research has been conducted on analysing systematically how individuals’ vaccine decisions are made from their beliefs and judgements on the influential factors.”

Real world analysis

In the research, completed jointly with PhD researcher Dr Lei Ni who has been funded by the Alliance MBS Strategic Investment Fund, a series of simulation-based analyses on a real-world social network were conducted. The aim was to demonstrate that the overall vaccination coverage is determined primarily by individuals’ beliefs and judgements on the decision criteria (such as perceived susceptibility to the disease, vaccine safety and effectiveness). It is also affected by specific vaccination-related information in the social network.

Dr Chen added: “The analytical findings can be helpful to underpin COVID-19 vaccination strategies and facilitate vaccine deployment, such as through promoting public confidence in the importance, safety and effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines and making use of social influence on individuals’ vaccination decision making.”

This week the paper was published in the European Journal of Operational Research and the authors are now working on a research grant proposal to further explore the academic and societal impact of the exploratory research.

COVID research

Since the start of the pandemic Dr Chen and colleagues within the Decision and Cognitive Sciences Research Centre at Alliance MBS have separately been analysing how COVID-19 cases have been changing nationally and locally in England since the outbreak began, and at how case levels have been affected by regional lockdowns.

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