Health

French researchers reveal chatbot skills to override vaccine hesitancy

A team of French cognitive scientists has addressed the urgent issue of vaccine hesitancy within many EU countries and proposes a new approach. With a study published in October this year, the researchers successfully demonstrated that the reluctance to be vaccinated could be decreased by deploying chatbot technology.

WHY IT MATTERS

The chatbot study involved researchers from the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS), the French National Institute of Health and Medical Research INSERM and ENS-PSL.

The study, published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied, found that interaction with a chatbot developed by CNRS, ENS-PSL and INSERM was able to reduce vaccination refusal by 20 per cent within a test group of 338 participants.

In the control group, which received only brief information about the COVID-19 vaccination, there were no comparable results in terms of general views and willingness to vaccinate.

THE LARGER TREND

Although nearly three-quarters of all adult Europeans are now fully vaccinated against COVID-19, there remain huge disparities in vaccination rates across countries.

According to the vaccine tracker of the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) as of 25 November 2021, individual EU countries such as Portugal (81.5 per cent), Ireland (76.2 per cent) and Denmark (76 per cent) have already made great progress in immunising their populations with a full COVID-19 vaccination, while the vaccination rate of other countries such as Germany, France or Austria continues to stagnate at below 70 per cent.

In other parts of Europe, especially in the south-west, the vaccination rates are significantly lower than 50 per cent. In Slovakia (45.7 per cent), Romania (37.3 per cent) and Bulgaria (24.7 per cent), very few people have received the double COVID-19 vaccine dose.

These vaccination backlogs are not only due to vaccine shortages, but in many cases a result of existing scepticism of many Europeans.

The researchers from France now hope that technology-based communication, such as chatbots, could have a positive impact on these figures in the future.

ON THE RECORD

“It remains to be shown whether the effects of chatbot interaction are lasting, and whether they are the same across age groups, and among those most resistant to vaccination”, emphasised the authors of the study with predominantly young and well-educated participants.

They added: “Half of the experimental group later tried to persuade others to get vaccinated, with three-quarters of them stating they drew information provided by the chatbot to do so.”

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