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Too Scared or Too Capable? Why Do College Students Stay Away from the H1N1 Vaccine?


  • Even though the convenience sample compromised the ecological validity of the study, it provided sufficient and reliable data for theory testing. In this regard, readers should take caution not to overgeneralize findings here to represent the larger college student population.

  • It would be better to assess risk perceptions with three or more indicators to facilitate structural equation modeling analysis. However, the two-item measurement strategy was used due to the length of the survey and the intention to be consistent with past RISP-based research.

  • To confirm this assumption, respondents’ factual knowledge about H1N1 vaccine was assessed based on their responses to four multiple-choice questions: (1) How many deaths could plausibly be caused by the H1N1 virus in the United States this flu season? (2) Of these groups, who is most likely to be hospitalized and even die from infection with the H1N1 virus? (3) Which is NOT one of the priority groups recommended to be first in line to get the H1N1 vaccine? (4) Students with H1N1 flu should not return to class until how long after their fever subsides without medication? Each respondent received a knowledge test score indicating how many correct answers (coded as 1, else coded as 0) they provided. The low knowledge test score (M= 1.37, SD = .86) suggested that respondents might have overestimated their current information level about H1N1 vaccine.

  • Even though the reliability score for this scale was lower than the other scales, it is comparable with other RISP studies using similar measures.

  • Anecdotal evidence suggests that false information challenging the vaccine's safety was widely spread among college students during the last flu season. Several videos showing teenagers developing rare diseases such as Gillian Barre Syndrome and Dystonia are still widely available on YouTube.

Department of Communication, University at Buffalo, Buffalo, NY, USA;


Although college students were among the populations that had the highest frequency of infection for H1N1 influenza, only 8% of them received H1N1 vaccine this past flu season nationwide. During the peak of this pandemic, information about H1N1 vaccine was widely available. However, knowledge test and behavioral data indicated that most college students were not equipped with basic facts about H1N1 and the H1N1 vaccine. To investigate socio-psychological factors that might have deterred this high-risk population from learning about and getting the H1N1 vaccine, this study tested the utility of a risk information seeking model in addressing this health communication problem. Data collected from an online survey of 371 college students showed that respondents seemed to overestimate how much they knew about the vaccine. Risk information seeking, however, positively influenced their intentions to get the vaccine. Results suggested that to communicate effectively to this population, it is important to emphasize the difference between perceived knowledge and actual knowledge, monitor emotional responses to potential risks, and promote getting flu vaccination as a socially desirable behavior.