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Is It Unethical to Use Fear in Public Health Campaigns?

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... Overall, this finding is in line with the literature, suggesting that different participants may have varying responses towards fear campaigns (Carter et al., 2012;Chapman, 2018;Puhl and Suh, 2015;Brewis et al., 2018;Couch et al., 2018;Bayer and Fairchild, 2016). Our study's findings further enrich the literature by suggesting that young adults who share similar sociodemographic characteristics also hold a varied view towards persuasive techniques such as fear appeals, and in turn, underscore the importance of taking a nuanced perspective in vaccination campaign design and development. ...
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Background Health campaign interventions, particularly those tailored to the target audience’s needs and preferences, can cost-effectively change people’s attitudes and behaviors towards better health decision-making. However, there is limited research on how to best tailor seasonal influenza vaccination campaigns for young adults. Vaccination is vital in protecting young adults and their social circles (vulnerable populations like older adults) from the influenza virus and critical in shaping these emerging adults’ vaccination habits in the long run. However, amid the prevalence of easily-accessible, attention-grabbing, and often malicious false and misinformation (e.g., COVID-19 vaccine conspiracy theories), it may be more challenging to develop vaccination messages that resonate with young adults well enough to attract their attention. Therefore, to bridge the research gap, this study examines young adults’ preferences for seasonal influenza vaccination campaigns to inform effective intervention design and development. Methods Qualitative survey questions were developed to gauge young adults’ preferences for seasonal influenza vaccination campaigns. A total of 545 young adults (73.9% female, Mage= 19.89, SD = 1.44) from a large University offered complete answers to a cross-sectional online survey. Braun and Clarke’s thematic analysis procedures were adopted to guide the data analysis process. Results Thematic analysis revealed that young adults prefer seasonal influenza vaccination campaigns that rely on (1) quality and balanced information from (2) credible information sources, positioned in the (3) relevant health contexts, (4) emphasize actionable messages, and incorporate (5) persuasive campaign design. Interestingly, while many participants indicated the importance of fear-appeal messages in persuading them to take health actions, some young adults also suggested avoiding fear campaigns due to discomfort. Conclusions Insights of the study can inform seasonal influenza vaccination design and development, and have the potential to shed light on vaccination messaging in other vaccine contexts, such as COVID-19 vaccines. Results also underscore the need for health experts and government officials to adopt a more nuanced approach when selecting persuasive campaign appeals. While some young adults may resonate well with fear appeals, others may not. Future research could examine the underlying mechanisms that drive young adults’ preference for vaccination campaign intervention to enrich the literature further.
... 5 While some commentators argued the advertisement's appeal to negative emotions such as guilt and shame stigmatised individuals with heart disease 3,4 , we note that public health researchers have questioned the ethics of negative emotional appeals used in other public health campaigns, including in tobacco control and HIV/AIDS. 6,7 This is not a new debate, nor is it limited to Australian public health campaigns -Cancer UK was also called on to defend its 2019 campaign highlighting the link between obesity and cancer, amid concerns it could inadvertently contribute to weight stigma and discrimination. 8 Without rehashing this debate, we note the available evidence indicates that negative, emotive appeals can have a place in public health campaigns. ...
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