Religiously framed messaging promotes HPV vaccine acceptance among some parents

The vaccine for human papillomavirus is highly effective. Yet some parents are reluctant or opposed to vaccinating their children due to their religious beliefs.

Given these challenges — and the fact that HPV is a major cause of several types of cancer — a group of researchers at the University of Illinois Chicago set out to study if a message tied to faith might promote vaccine acceptance among some Christian parents. Specifically, they used the story of Noah’s Ark as a metaphor for vaccination and compared that approach to the standard U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention message explaining the HPV vaccine’s efficacy.

The team recruited 342 Christian parents of unvaccinated 11- to 17-year-olds and showed them either the Noah’s Ark message or the CDC message. In the religiously framed message, titled “Get Your Child into the Ark,” Noah is portrayed as a protective parent, the flood is the virus and the ark is the vaccine. Parents were asked before and after they saw the message whether they intended to vaccinate their child against HPV in the next year. The researchers then calculated the difference in parents’ intent before and after seeing the messages.

They found that Christian parents who saw the religiously framed message were more likely to change their opinions in favor of vaccination than those who saw the CDC message. The study is published in the Journal of Communication in Healthcare.

The findings highlight the impact that religiously framed health messages can have, explained lead author Ayo Olagoke, who conducted the research while getting her PhD at UIC.

“Recognizing the inseparable relationship between religion and health, it is imperative that we promote equitable messaging to effectively address the importance of vaccination in religious communities,” said Olagoke, who is now at the University of Nebraska Omaha.

The other authors, all from UIC, are Jennifer Hebert-Beirne, Brenikki Floyd, Dr. Rachel Caskey, Dr. Andrew Boyd and Yamilé Molina.

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