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The Wharton School, Walmart & More Research Increasing Vaccine Adoption

Walmart, two regional health systems, and multiple partners within the University of Pennsylvania conducted research into increasing vaccine adoption. The Behavior Change for Good Initiative (BCFG) at the Wharton School and the School of Arts and Sciences, in collaboration with the Penn Medicine Nudge Unit, released their findings last week. The two mega-research studies revealed simple communications proved most effective. Specifically, reminding individuals a flu shot was “waiting” or “reserved” for them boosted vaccination rates by up to 11%. Researchers hope this information could help encourage COVID-19 vaccinations.

“Telling a person the flu shot is ‘reserved for you’ suggests that this particular dose of the vaccine already belongs to them, and if they don’t claim it, they’ll actually be losing something,” said Alison Buttenheim of Penn Nursing. “So it invokes loss aversion, as well as a sense of reciprocity – the provider has gone to the trouble of setting aside the vaccine dose, and it would be rude not to take it. Gretchen was also eager to frame getting the flu shot as a default: the flu shot is waiting for you.”

Successful Messaging

Approximately 700,000 Walmart pharmacy patients and 50,000 primary care patients at Penn Medicine and Geisinger received messaging via SMS. Patients received two reminder texts, 72 hours and 24 hours prior to an appointment. Of the set of 19 messages tested, the most successful were unsurprising and did not require interaction. The first message encouraged patients to request a flu shot to protect the health of themselves and their families. The second message reminded patients that a flu shot had been reserved for their appointment. The increase in vaccination rates generated by using the “reserved for you” messaging is significant given the low cost of SMS.

Katy Milkman, Wharton professor, BCFG Co-Director, and lead author on both studies, shared the following. “While the vaccines are different, we face the same behavioral challenges in encouraging uptake of the flu and COVID-19 vaccinations. Rather than convincing the skeptics, we focused on encouraging people who want the vaccine to actually receive it. Our results suggest a promising way to encourage COVID-19 vaccinations at scale—we can potentially help save lives for less than 10¢ per person.”

Read the full press release here.

Posted in: News

Schools: UPenn / Wharton

About the Author


Lauren Wakal

Lauren Wakal has been covering the MBA admissions space for more than a decade, from in-depth business school profiles to weekly breaking news and more.

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