Would COVID-19 vaccination willingness increase if mobile technologies prohibit unvaccinated individuals from public spaces? A nationwide discrete choice experiment from China

Jing Wang, Abram L. Wagner, Ying Chen, Etienne Jaime, Xinwen Hu, Shiqiang Wu, Yihan Lu, Yuhua Ruan, Stephen W. Pan*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Achieving COVID-19 community protection (aka, herd immunity) in China may be challenging because many individuals remain unsure or are unwilling to be vaccinated. One potential means to increase COVID-19 vaccine uptake is to essentially mandate vaccination by using existing mobile technologies that can prohibit unvaccinated individuals from certain public spaces. The “Health Code” is a ubiquitous mobile phone app in China that regulates freedom of travel based on individuals’ predicted risk of exposure to SARS-CoV-2. Green-colored codes indicate ability to travel unrestricted in low-risk regions; yellow-colored codes indicate prohibition from major public spaces and modes of public transportation. We examined the effects of a “Health Code”-based vaccine mandate on willingness to vaccinate for COVID-19 in China. Methods: In August 2020, an online discrete choice experiment (DCE) was conducted among adults living in China. Participants completed up to six DCE choice sets, each containing two hypothetical COVID-19 vaccination scenario choices and a “do not vaccinate” choice. Half of the choice sets had a “Health Code” attribute that associated the “do not vaccinate” choice with a yellow Health Code implying restricted travel. Weighted, mixed effects multinomial logit regression was used to estimate preference utilities and predicted choice probabilities. Results: Overall, 873 participants completed 4317 choice sets. Most participants attained at least college-level education (90.9%). 29.8% of participants were identified as vaccine hesitators (defined as being unsure or unwilling to receive a COVID-19 vaccination). With and without the “Health Code”-based vaccine mandate, there was an 8.6% (85% CI: 6.4% − 10.92%) and 17.3% (85% CI:13.1% − 21.6%) respective predicted probability that vaccine hesitators would choose “do not vaccinate” over a common vaccination scenario currently in China (i.e., free, domestic vaccine, 80% effectiveness, 10% probability of fever side-effects, administered in a large hospital, two doses). Corresponding predicted probabilities for people who did not express vaccine hesitancy was 0.3% (93% CI: 0.0% − 14.3%) and 3.5% (93% CI:2.3% − 4.8%). The “Health Code”-based mandate significantly increased willingness to vaccinate when vaccine efficacy was greater than 60%. Conclusion: Among vaccine hesitators with higher educational attainment, willingness to vaccinate for COVID-19 appears to increase if mobile technology-based vaccine mandates prohibit unvaccinated individuals from public spaces and public transportation. However, such mandates may not increase willingness if perceived vaccine efficacy is low.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)7466-7475
Number of pages10
Issue number51
Publication statusPublished - 5 Dec 2022


  • Antivaccine
  • Antivaxx
  • Digital technology
  • Public health
  • Stated choice
  • Vaccine hesitancy

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