Covid-19 Vaccine Brand Perceptions

An HCD Case Study

Although we are well into a year of having Covid-19 being a major component of our lives, many individuals are still sick and dying every day from this virus. A reported 4.38 million deaths have resulted from this pandemic, and with little to no understanding about the long-term effects of Covid-19 for those who survive, the ramification of this virus continues to unfold. Yet, over the past seventeen months, researchers and scientists have gained a good grasp about useful mitigation strategies that reduce the spread of infection. Along with the promising influences of universal masking, encouraged outdoor activities, and curfews, vaccinations have proven to be an effective tool for keeping people out of the hospital and dying (CDC, 2021).

The rollout of the Covid-19 vaccine ignited mixed opinions: some feeling relieved and optimistic, while contrasting views were skepticism and fear. HCD Research partnered with Farrah Kharche from the University of Pennsylvania Master’s in Behavioral and Decision Science program to explore consumer-driven brand perceptions of vaccine providers in the United States. Identifying and analyzing these perceptions is a valuable component in translating consumer belief into a desired behavior, such as vaccine adoption.

Location, location, location!

Since this study focuses on consumers in the US, perceptions were measured on the three currently available vaccine providers: Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson. Both the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines were developed with a novel mRNA technique that requires two doses, while the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is a single-dose, traditional viral vector vaccine (Person, 2021). These perceptions were collected in July 2021 to ascertain if consumers associate specific emotional and brand attributes with the three vaccine providers.

Among the 250 survey participants (ages 18-64), 64% reported being vaccinated. Unsurprisingly, the majority of participants reported they either did receive or would be comfortable getting a vaccine in spaces such as a doctor’s office or a pharmacy (76% and 70%), while only half received or felt comfortable receiving a vaccine in a grocery store. Vaccination sites that were less popular included hospitals (47%) and mass vaccination sites (8%). The minority of individuals willing to receive a dose at a mass vaccination site is concerning, as this method is an efficient way to distribute the vaccine. Considering the environment in which individuals would be willing to receive a vaccine shot is really important while making plans for future rollouts. It is clear based on these responses that context plays a major role in encouraging certain behaviors.

The Methodology

To explore if perceptual differences exist, both explicit and implicit responses were collected from participants through open-ended responses and an implicit reaction test (IRT). An IRT is a timed reaction test which reveals, in this case, if consumers associated the vaccine provider with the attribute displayed. If the vaccine provider and the descriptor were a match, the participant was instructed to press the spacebar as fast as possible. The faster response is indicative of a stronger association. Further, investigating the IRT responses along with the documented free-form responses describing the vaccine providers offers an interesting overview about how consumers feel about the Covid-19 vaccine brands.

Giving the vaccine a shot

The word clouds below of the three vaccine providers reveal the pertinent descriptors used for each brand. Figure 1 shares the explicit attitudes of participants. Interestingly, each vaccine provider often was referred to as “safe.” Moderna and Pfizer were both often noted as “effective,” while Johnson & Johnson and Pfizer were considered “reliable.” Johnson & Johnson was also referred to as “trusted.”

Figure 1: Above are the world clouds for the three vaccine brands: Johnson & Johnson (green), Pfizer (blue), and Moderna (red).

The IRT consisted of brand and emotional descriptors, giving insight into how consumers feel about different vaccine providers as well understanding what features of the brand translate to consumer perception. For the brand IRT, both Moderna and Pfizer had significantly higher associations with the word “available” than Johnson & Johnson, with more than 65% of the participants. Both vaccine providers also demonstrated high and medium associations significantly higher than Johnson & Johnson with words such as “healthy,” “safe,” “reliable,” and “effective.”

Figure 2: Implicit emotional association responses, categorized into high, medium, and low based on the timed reaction to exposure to the descriptor. 

It does not appear the viral vector vaccine utilized by Moderna or Pfizer created notable qualms among the words tested, since the brand words with high and medium associations are positive concepts. Contrastingly, Johnson & Johnson is not satisfying any of the brand attributes tested and could benefit by building a stronger narrative around the one-dose vaccine. Interestingly, the implicit responses about Johnson & Johnson differ from the explicit descriptors, where participants frequently noted the brand as reliable and trusted. This suggests that although participants deliberately find Johnson & Johnson trusted and reliable, there is an unspoken disconnect and hesitation which needs to be addressed and highlighted in the company’s messaging and outreach.

As for the implicit emotional associations, more than 65% of participants highly associated both Moderna and Pfizer with being “normal” and “safe,” significantly more than Johnson & Johnson. Additionally, Moderna and Pfizer also shared a medium association with participants feeling “confident” and “social.” The two vaccine providers overall had very positive connotations associated with them, with negative emotional words, such as “scared” or “hesitant,” not matching. Johnson & Johnson lacked any high associations; however, participants had higher associations for negative words such as “disappointed” and “scared” compared to both Pfizer and Moderna. The consensus among the implicit emotional associations is that Moderna and Pfizer have a more complementary view compared to Johnson & Johnson.

Figure 3: Implicit brand association responses, categorized into high, medium, and low based on the timed reaction to exposure to the descriptor. 

Vax lax or vax to the max: Does it make a difference?

This study showed perceptions vary among vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals. Unvaccinated individuals highly associated the vaccine brands with the negative attributes and had low to no associations toward positive attributes when thinking about vaccine brands. For example, Johnson & Johnson was highly associated with negative words, such as “disappointed,” “hesitant,” and “scared” among unvaccinated participants. The inverse is true for vaccinated individuals, who had low associations with the same three negative descriptors.  

Figure 4: Implicit reaction time results with participants segmented as either vaccinated (i.e., has at least received their first dose) and unvaccinated. 

The unfavorable perceptions among unvaccinated participants may be affiliated with overall associations about vaccines, causing some individuals to be reluctant out of fear. Many choosing to remain unvaccinated have noted concerns ranging from allergic reactions to belief in vaccine conspiracies (Su et al., 2020). Tailoring communication strategies to specific types of unvaccinated individuals may provide a meaningful shift in perspective. Those with medical concerns or hesitations will have a different understanding of the vaccines compared to someone who is uninformed about the topic. Delivering clear, evidence-based information to dispel false notions around vaccines is critical in helping consumers make informed decisions towards Covid-19 vaccine adoption.    


Even though the vaccines are proven as a safe, effective, and accessible tool to mitigate risk in the US, consumer perception surrounding the vaccine brands among unvaccinated participants suggests otherwise. Individuals within the unvaccinated population have a lack of trust, which results in a dampening in vaccine acceptance and compliance with health guidelines. Shifts in perception is one of the most valuable ways to enhance vaccine uptake. Each vaccine provider must carefully craft messages and campaigns which target specific individuals for effective outreach.

Building trust and a strong narrative about the vaccines is imperative not only with unvaccinated individuals but also the general public since it is unclear currently if shots are waning in immunity due to the passage of time or due to the uptick in variants. To keep individuals protected and prevent overcrowding in hospitals, the potential rollout of boosters requires an informed understanding of the public’s perception in order to best address their concerns. Researchers, government officials, and healthcare providers all benefit from understanding consumer perceptions because it gives insight into the best way to frame the unified message which is all Covid-19 vaccines FDA approved— regardless of the provider—save lives.


CDC. (2021, August 16). COVID-19 vaccine EFFECTIVENESS. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Pearson, S. (2021, July 2). Comparing the Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 Vaccines – GoodRx. The GoodRx Prescription Savings Blog.  

Su, Z., Wen, J., Abbas, J., McDonnell, D., Cheshmehzangi, A., Li, X., … & Cai, Y. (2020). A race for a better understanding of COVID-19 vaccine non-adopters. Brain, behavior, & immunity-health, 100159.