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Credit: Tyler Kliem

Two studies by Penn researchers found that text communications reminding individuals that a vaccine is available to them increases vaccination rates by up to 11%.

Although the studies focused on flu vaccines, lead author and Wharton professor Katy Milkman told Penn Today the findings can be applied to COVID-19 vaccinations. The most effective communication that increases vaccination rates include text reminders telling patients a shot was reserved or waiting for them, according to the findings which were released on Feb. 18.

“While the vaccines are different, we face the same behavioral challenges in encouraging uptake of the flu and COVID-19 vaccinations,” Milkman told Penn Today. “Our results suggest a promising way to encourage COVID-19 vaccinations at scale.”

The studies were conducted by the Behavior Change for Good Initiative at the Wharton School and the School of Arts & Sciences in collaboration with the Penn Medicine Nudge Unit. One study included Walmart pharmacy patients, and the other included primary care patients at the Penn Medicine and Geisinger health systems. 

The Walmart study focused on a population of about 700,000 pharmacy patients, and the Penn Medicine and Geisinger study focused on a population of about 50,000 primary care patients, making them two of the largest studies ever conducted with the subject of increasing vaccination rates. 

In the study conducted at Penn Medicine and Geisinger, patients received text reminders prior to their appointment with their primary care provider. The most effective communication included a text that reminded patients how the flu vaccine would keep them safe, and a second message that reminded patients that a flu shot was reserved for them. 

The study of Walmart pharmacy patients, participants received a series of two texts. One text informed the patient that a flu shot was available, and another text sent two days later reminded patients that a flu shot was "waiting for you." 

These straightforward and educational forms of SMS text messages led to the greatest vaccination rates, Penn Today reported. When other informal or casual messages were sent, such as messages that made jokes about the flu, they were not as effective.