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Differences in perceptions and acceptance of COVID-19 vaccination between vaccine hesitant and non-hesitant persons.

Naranjo D, Kimball E, Nelson J, Samore M, Alder SC, Stroupe K, Evans CT, Weaver FM, Ray C, Kale I, Galyean PO, Zickmund S. Differences in perceptions and acceptance of COVID-19 vaccination between vaccine hesitant and non-hesitant persons. PLoS ONE. 2023 Sep 8; 18(9):e0290540.

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Acceptance of the COVID-19 vaccination becomes more critical as new variants continue to evolve and the United States (US) attempts to move from pandemic response to management and control. COVID-19 stands out in the unique way it has polarized patients and generated sustained vaccine hesitancy over time. We sought to understand differences in perceptions and acceptance of COVID-19 vaccination between vaccine hesitant and non-hesitant patients, with the goal of informing communication and implementation strategies to increase uptake of COVID-19 vaccines in Veteran and non-Veteran communities. This qualitative study used interview data from focus groups conducted by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and the University of Utah; all focus groups were conducted using the same script March-July 2021. Groups included forty-six United States Veterans receiving care at 28 VA facilities across the country and 166 non-Veterans across Utah for a total of 36 one-hour focus groups. We identified perceptions and attitudes toward COVID-19 vaccination through qualitative analysis of focus group participant remarks, grouping connections with identified themes within domains developed based on the questions asked in the focus group guide. Responses suggest participant attitudes toward the COVID-19 vaccine were shaped primarily by vaccine attitude changes over time, impacted by perceived vaccine benefits, risks, differing sources of vaccine information and political ideology. Veterans appeared more polarized, being either largely non-hesitant, or hesitant, whereas non-Veterans had a wider range of hesitancy, with more participants identifying minor doubts and concerns about receiving the vaccine, or simply being altogether unsure about receiving it. Development of COVID-19 vaccine communication strategies in Veteran and non-Veteran communities should anticipate incongruous sources of information and explicitly target community differences in perceptions of risks and benefits associated with the vaccine to generate candid discussions and repair individuals' trust. We believe this could accelerate vaccine acceptance over time.

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