(Proposal) The “hot-person vaccine”: the effect of COVID-19 vaccines’ brand perceptions on risk-taking behaviors


Does the brand of COVID-19 vaccine you get influence whether you will be more likely to engage in risky behaviors before and after your immunization period? This is an important question at present, but also for future rounds of mass vaccinations that we will likely have to undergo as the result of the SARS-CoV-2 virus and its various mutations.

During the initial stages of COVID-19 vaccination campaigns, a large number of consumers sought out specific brands of vaccine and were canceling vaccination appointments to wait for the brand they preferred. The issue was so relevant that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) had to post a specific message against brand preference on their webpage “The best covid-19 vaccine is the one that is available to you. Do not wait for a specific brand.” Despite these efforts, global mass media started to notice a widespread preference for the Pfizer vaccine, which was reportedly associated with a perception of luxury or high social status (Booth & Adam, 2021; Sabella, 2021; Tiffany, 2021; Zerbo, 2021).

Consumers’ brand preference not only has the negative consequence of delaying vaccination campaigns, but it might be also related to a higher likelihood to engage in risky behaviors and spread of the virus.

Theoretical framework

Previous literature in consumer behavior documents a link between physical threats and preference for luxury products (Ma et al., 2019) as well as an effect of luxury products consumption on an increased sense of personal power (Rucker & Galinsky, 2008). Based on anecdotal evidence showing that the Pfizer vaccine is perceived as being a status brand, we posit that consumers will exhibit higher levels of sense of personal power after getting the Pfizer vaccine as compared to those receiving other brands. Additionally, the link between getting the Pfizer vaccine and personal sense of power will be strengthened (moderated) by how luxurious consumers perceive Pfizer to be as compared to other vaccines.

One downside of such an increased sense of personal power is that individuals are more likely to engage in risk-taking behaviors because of an optimistic bias (Anderson & Galinsky, 2006). Recent research has shown that even when it comes to COVID-19, unrealistic optimism about the likelihood of experiencing adverse health outcomes can lead to behaviors increasing odds of exposure (Gassen et al., 2021). Risk-taking is of particular importance when it comes to vaccination campaigns because when individuals are prone to taking risks before full immunization, it can jeopardize a country’s effort to vaccinate and protect as many people as possible.

Hence, we hypothesize that:

H1: After getting the Pfizer vaccine (vs. other brands), consumers will exhibit a higher sense of personal power, which in turn will increase their intentions to engage in risky behaviors.

H2: The effect of having taken Pfizer (vs. other brands) on increasing sense of personal power will be moderated by how luxurious one perceives Pfizer to be.

Survey Design

All participants will complete a 15-minute long survey including the focal measures of our constructs of interest, namely:

  • Vaccination Status = whether they received the vaccine, how many doses, and when they received the first/second dose
  • Vaccine Brand = if they got a vaccine, which brand
  • 8-item Sense of Personal Power Scale (Anderson et al., 2012)
  • Luxury perception of Pfizer (vs. other vaccines): mean of 5-item scale: scarce, luxurious, exclusive, unique & prestigious, 7-point scale.
  • Risky behaviors = willingness to engage in the 13 risky or safe activities proposed by CDC (https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/pdfs/choosingSaferAct.pdf), 7-point scale.

Together with control variables such as perceived safety and effectiveness of each brand, perceived vaccine availability, ability to choose the brand, being at severe risk of infection or living with someone who is, etc.

Participants and Sample Size

Our goal is to collect 450 surveys for each of the following countries: Italy, USA, and UK. Additionally, of those 450 participants per country, we aim at filling three quotas: 1) 150 fully immunized participants (i.e., they had their second dose more than two weeks before the survey); 2) 150 partly immunized participants (i.e., they only had one dose or they had their second dose less than two weeks before the survey); and 3) 150 non-vaccinated participants (i.e., they did not receive a vaccine yet). Quotas will be filled using a separate pre-screening questionnaire.

Study costs

The present is a retroactive proposal (Prolific granted permission) because data needed to be collected in a timely manner given the specific timeframe that our research question imposed. Data collection took place between May 22nd and June 25th and the total cost amounted to ₤3,119.24 (including fees and VAT). The time frame length reflects the speed of vaccination in the respective countries. We ask for retroactive funding to help the research team to follow up with randomized experiments testing how different brand framing or public service announcement messages could help limit the effect of brand preference on risk-taking behaviors.

Data Analysis

To test our hypotheses, we will run a moderated mediation analysis using PROCESS model 7 (Hayes, 2017) in which we will have “Vaccination Brand” (1 = Pfizer; 0 = other brand) as our independent variable (X), “Sense of personal power” as our mediator (M), “Risky behaviors” as our dependent variable (Y), and “Luxury perception” of the Pfizer vaccine as our moderator (W). We will also include a series of control variables mentioned in the survey design section above. Given that there are factors that are idiosyncratic to each country (e.g., vaccines availability, media coverage, country-specific rules, etc.), we plan to test our hypotheses separately for each country we surveyed.

Open science details

The study has been pre-registered at OSF, and once it is complete and peer-reviewed, we will publish fully de-identified data, analysis code, and study materials.


Anderson, C., & Galinsky, A. D. (2006). Power, optimism, and risk-taking. European Journal of Social Psychology, 36(4), 511–536. https://doi.org/10.1002/ejsp.324

Anderson, C., John, O. P., & Keltner, D. (2012). The Personal Sense of Power: The Personal Sense of Power. Journal of Personality, 80(2), 313–344. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-6494.2011.00734.x

Booth, W., & Adam, K. (2021). Can I choose my covid vaccine? Strong opinions on Oxford vs. Pfizer emerge in U.K. Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/europe/covid-vaccines-choice-pfizer-astrazeneca/2021/02/20/0beaceb0-5f2f-11eb-a177-7765f29a9524_story.html

Gassen, J., Nowak, T. J., Henderson, A. D., Weaver, S. P., Baker, E. J., & Muehlenbein, M. P. (2021). Unrealistic Optimism and Risk for COVID-19 Disease. Frontiers in Psychology, 12. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2021.647461

Ma, H., Bradshaw, H. K., Janakiraman, N., & Hill, S. E. (2019). Spending as protection: The need for safety increases preference for luxury products. Marketing Letters, 30(1), 45–56.

Rucker, D. D., & Galinsky, A. D. (2008). Desire to Acquire: Powerlessness and Compensatory Consumption. Journal of Consumer Research, 35(2), 257–267. https://doi.org/10.1086/588569

Sabella, M. (2021, marzo 15). Vaccini, il 65% degli italiani vuole sceglierlo: Pfizer marchio preferito. Corriere della Sera. https://www.corriere.it/economia/consumi/21_marzo_15/doxa-il-65percento-italiani-vuole-scegliere-marchio-vaccino-pfizer-cima-preferenze-60150a38-8599-11eb-9163-c4d65be13e50.shtml

Tiffany, K. (2021). Pfizer Gang and the Sadness of Vaccine Culture—The Atlantic. Pfizer Gang and the Sadness of Vaccine Culture - The Atlantic

Zerbo, J. (2021). Consumers’ Focus on Brands Is in Full Force Amid COVID-19 Vaccine Roll-Outs | The Fashion Law. Consumers' Focus on Brands Is in Full Force Amid COVID-19 Vaccine Roll-Outs | The Fashion Law

Ok… very intetesting