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Tailored COVID-19 Public Health Messaging for Young Adults

Background: 

Since summer 2020, young adults (age 19-40) have had the highest infection rate and viewed as the main cause for the community spread of COVID-19. This qualitative study aims to examine the attitudes and perceptions of young adults on public health messaging to better inform future messaging and knowledge translation.

Methods:

50 young adults residing in British Columbia, Canada, were recruited via existing research networks, social media, and snowball recruitment from October to November 2020 to participate in focus group discussions via teleconferencing in groups 4-6. Thematic analysis of the focus group transcripts was conducted following the six phases of thematic analysis as outlined by Braun and Clarke with an interactive and reflective coding process. 

Results:

Thematic analysis revealed four major themes: 1) risks of contracting the disease, 2) the perceived impact of COVID-19, 3) responsibility of institutions, and 4) effective public health messaging. Young adults felt a strong sense of responsibility to lower community spread. They mentioned facing unique challenges amid the COVID-19 pandemic not only due to working in high-risk, low-pay essential services but also due to isolation at a time crucial for social development. Young adults carried a disproportionate burden of depression and anxiety, especially when taking on multiple social roles such as caregivers and parents. Existing messaging was perceived as inconsistent, confusing, and ineffective in part due to a heavy emphasis on shaming and blaming. Moreover, messaging delivered in traditional mediums often not assessed by young adults left knowledge gaps and concerns unanswered. 

Conclusions and implications for policy, practice or additional research: 

Our findings suggest tailored messaging to young adults should 1) reflect the lived experiences of this age group, 2) be positively framed, and 3) be delivered on accessible platforms that facilitate two-way communication, such as social media. The findings of this study are currently being incorporated into a digital tool under pilot testing aimed to target vaccine hesitancy via gamification. 

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