Morrison, Catherine

Advisor Department

Communication Studies




Vaccine; Anti-vaccination; Pro-vaccination; Fuzzy Trace Theory; Facebook; Gist


Science harnesses curiosity and creativity to allow for a better understanding of the natural world, which fuels the advancement of human society. Without effective communication connecting the technical world of scientific practice with the public world of decision-making and action, the power of science to improve health is blunted. The debate over vaccination illustrates the importance of effective communication. While vaccines alleviate the suffering of people worldwide, ineffective and counterproductive communication strategies have limited their impact on public health. The history of vaccines provides significant insight into current public resistance to vaccines. Skepticism of scientific advancement is to be expected, but the ongoing and outward expression of such skepticism has shown to have adverse effects on vaccine initiatives. This year’s flu epidemic is an example of the necessity for an effective model of vaccine communication, specifically on social media. A fake news article claiming that the flu shot was causing the flu in those that had been vaccinated was published online on January 15, 2018 and quickly rose to the fourth most viral piece published by, a site notorious for publishing fake news. Regardless of the site’s reputation, the post quickly gained popularity on Facebook and was shared 861,000 times in under four months. The circumstances of this flu epidemic increased the public’s susceptibility to such misinformation, as the flu shot was less accurately predicted than in previous years. Without understanding the science behind vaccine design and production, it is easy for individuals to believe that they are sick with the flu because they chose to get vaccinated, not because they were simply infected by a strain unprotected by the immunization. This atmosphere of public lack of knowledge followed by skepticism and panic mimics historical examples, such as the Salk polio vaccine and the MMR vaccine scares, further emphasizing the urgency to have an effective model of vaccine communication ready to combat these obstacles to vaccine initiatives. The aim of this study is to identify limitations in scientific communication that affect current vaccination rates, focusing on the most commonly used social media site, Facebook. The proposed project defines an effective model of vaccine communication incorporating concepts of the Fuzzy Trace Theory, while also considering persuasive language observed to be effective in the anti-vaccination movement.

Available for download on Tuesday, December 31, 2030