Using moral foundations in government communication to reduce vaccine hesitancy

Florian Heine, Ennie Wolters

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

9 Citations (Scopus)


Having a vaccine available does not necessarily imply that it will be used. Indeed, uptake rates for existing vaccines against infectious diseases have been fluctuating in recent years. Literature suggests that vaccine hesitancy may be grounded in deeply rooted intuitions or values, which can be modelled using Moral Foundations Theory (MFT). We examine the respective prominence of the MFT dimensions in government communication regarding childhood vaccinations and explore its effect on parents’ vaccine hesitancy. We measure the MFT dimension loading of the vaccination information brochures from the Dutch National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM) between 2011-2019 and connect this information with the electronic national immunisation register to investigate if the use of moral foundations in government communication has a measurable effect on vaccination uptake. We find the largest positive effect for the dimensions Authority/Subversion and Liberty/Oppression and suggestive evidence in favour of a small positive effect for Purity/Degradation. Conversely, Loyalty/Betrayal actually has a negative effect on vaccination rates. For the dimension Harm/Care, we find no significant effect. While Purity/Degradation and Harm/Care appear to be the two most frequently used moral foundations by RIVM, these dimensions have in fact no or only a minor effect on parents’ vaccine hesitancy. Reducing the use of these moral foundations may be the first step towards optimising government communication in this context. Instead, formulations activating the moral foundations Authority/Subversion and Liberty/Oppression appear to have positive effects on vaccination uptake.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0259435
Number of pages20
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2021


  • Vaccination and Immunization
  • Vaccines
  • public and occupational health
  • Neonates


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