While many Americans are lining up to take the COVID-19 vaccine  and proudly showing off their participation in the process with a selfie, there are still some who are on the fence on when—or if—they’ll take the vaccine.


To understand what’s holding some people back, we conducted a national message testing study for our client The Rockefeller Foundation among those expressing concerns about getting the vaccine—including healthcare workers and K-12 teachers.


We learned that people who are undecided about the vaccine have genuine concerns about it. While many of these people haven’t made a definitive commitment to getting it as soon as possible, most do plan to get there and join the millions who have taken the vaccine.


As part of our work with The Rockefeller Foundation’s State and Territory Alliance for Testing (STAT), we developed four key message strategies you should consider when communicating about vaccines with those folks who are taking their time to decide. To learn more, you can consult the Vaccine Confidence Message Brief we developed for The Foundation.

Help people across the finish line

Many participants in our focus groups said they would get the vaccine “eventually,” or mentioned how much they want to “get to yes.” To help them take the final step, highlight other people who were once ambivalent, but made up their mind to get the vaccine. 

To do this, encourage people to share their positive vaccine experiences with their friends and family. Participants said they want to learn about the experiences from “someone who lives in your own community who knows the environment, the culture and all that stuff.”

Frame vaccines as a tool—not an ultimatum

People in our focus groups were resistant to language that suggested that vaccines alone would end the pandemic (e.g., “vaccines are the only way”). Many have adopted a self-protection routine—such as wearing masks, testing frequently, and socially distancing—that they are unwilling to abandon all at once to get the vaccine. One of the participants in our groups said that “If everybody was vaccinated this week and they said next week the restrictions were gone … I would still be one of the people that will wear a mask and I will still socially distance.”


We recommend using language that describes vaccines as an additional powerful tool to wield against the virus. Emphasize that vaccines are on the same continuum as masks—not a replacement.

Emphasize the benefits side of the risk-benefit equation

Messages focusing solely on safety can reinforce people’s concerns, as they end up dwelling more on what they’re anxious about. Be clear and direct about the safety of the vaccines and then quickly pivot to the benefits of being vaccinated—such as being able to protect your family while being in the same room with them. 

People who are on the fence about getting vaccinated in the near future are confident that they can protect themselves against the virus, but less so on protecting others around them. Highlighting the parts of life that people will regain once they and their loved ones get vaccinated is an effective way to emphasize the benefits.

Refrain from demanding, 
insistent, or urgent language

Our research found messages emphasizing that people need to get vaccinated “before it’s too late” were the least motivating. Totalistic language (such as “vaccines will end this pandemic once and for all”) added to the sense that we’re rushing this without the facts.


In our focus groups, we heard participants share genuine concerns, but pressing them to get the vaccine quickly only reminds them of how quickly it was developed. People want help to make the choice, not to feel backed into a corner. To help these folks, share messages that stress individual choice.