Managing the COVID-19 pandemic—and other communicable diseases—involves broad societal uptake of vaccines. As has been demonstrated, however, vaccine uptake is often uneven and incomplete across populations. This is a substantial challenge that must be addressed by public health efforts. To this point, significant research has focused on demographic and attitudinal correlates with vaccine hesitancy to understand uptake patterns. In this study, however, we advance understandings of individual decision-making processes involved in vaccine uptake through a mixed-methods investigation of the role of timing
in COVID-19 vaccine choices. In the first step, a survey experiment, we find the timing of vaccine rollout (i.e., when a vaccine becomes available to the respondent) has a significant impact on public decision-making. Not only is there a higher level of acceptance when the vaccine becomes available at a later time, but delayed availability is correlated with both lower levels of ‘desire to wait’ and ‘total rejection’ of the vaccine. In a second step, we explore associated qualitative data, finding that temporal expressions (i.e., professing a desire to wait) can serve as a proxy for underlying non-temporal rationales, like concerns around safety, efficacy, personal situations, or altruism. By identifying these patterns, as well as the complexities of underlying factors, through a mixed-methods investigation, we can inform better vaccine-related policy and public messaging, as well as enhance our understanding of how individuals make decisions about vaccines in the context of COVID-19.
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