LOS ANGELES — With the delta variant raging and COVID vaccination numbers remaining stubbornly lower than the threshold needed to reach herd immunity, researchers say simple text messages could be a useful tool. 

“We found that text messages that stressed the accessibility of the vaccine and that included ‘ownership’ language — such as ‘The vaccine has just been made available for you’ and ‘Claim your dose today’ — significantly increased vaccine uptake,” said Dr. Daniel Croymans, a researcher with the David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles.

What You Need To Know

  • Text messages reminding people to get a COVID shot increased vaccination rates in a new study from researchers with the University of California, Los Angeles and Carnegie Mellon University

  • The study looked at 93,000 UCLA Health patients who were notified of their vaccine eligibility in January and February

  • Patients who received a reminder text made vaccination appointments at twice the rate of those who had not been reminded

  • Texts that told patients "the vaccine has just been made available to you" or to "claim your dose today" were most effective

The senior author of a study published Monday in the scientific journal Nature, Croymans and his team found that emphasizing how easy it is to get the vaccine not only helped boost the number of people getting the shot but did so across demographics, even among groups that have been reluctant.

Conducted by researchers at the UCLA Anderson School of Management, UCLA Geffen School of Medicine and Carnegie Mellon University, the study looked at data from two randomized, controlled trials with UCLA Health patients. Most of them were age 65 or older and were eligible for the COVID vaccine in January and February, shortly after it first became available.

The study looked at 93,000 participants who were notified of their vaccine eligibility by email, mail or phone, some of whom did not receive a follow-up text and others who received one of four different types of message, including a text reminder, a reminder with an informational video, a reminder with the so-called ownership language or one with ownership language and a video. Regardless of the type, each reminder linked to a web page that allowed the patients to schedule a vaccination with UCLA Health. 

The study found that the rate of appointments made within six days of receiving the reminder was twice as high as it was for those who hadn’t received one: 13.2% compared with 7.2%. Texts with the personalized ownership language yielded even higher vaccination appointment rates, the researchers found.

A second study followed up with the 67,000 people from the original group who hadn’t scheduled an appointment to be vaccinated, even eight days after receiving a reminder text. That group was divided in half, with 50% receiving a second text reminder and 50% receiving nothing. The second reminder yielded a more modest 1.7% increase in a patient’s likeliness to schedule an appointment compared with the no-reminder group. 

“One simple reminder, which is cost effective, could prompt people to schedule their appointment,” said the study’s co-lead author, Silvia Saccardo, an assistant professor at Carnegie Mellon University. “Getting scheduled for the first dose was the bigger barrier. Once scheduled, people went to the appointment and then returned for their second dose.”