The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated both the need for lifesaving vaccines and the challenge of getting many people to take them. A recent megastudy suggests that text messaging can boost vaccination usage — depending on which words are used. To find the optimal message, researchers held a nationwide contest that focused on reminders about flu vaccines.

Jehan Sparks, a postdoctoral fellow at the USC Schaeffer Roybal Center for Behavioral Interventions in Aging, helped devise the winning script. As part of a team including a UCLA and a University of Toronto professor, she designed a nudge consisting of two text reminders. The first text was sent 72 hours before a patient’s primary care appointment, with the second being sent 24 hours in advance.

The texts, which let people know that a flu shot was “waiting” or “reserved for you” increased vaccination rates by 11%. This straightforward messaging from Sparks and her colleagues also proved to be more effective than attempts at humor or interactive engagement.

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