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Exploring adolescent perspectives on vaccination and side effects

Start date

1st February 2023


1 fully funded 3-year full-time PhD, funded by the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA)


Teenage experiences and understanding are likely to play a formative role in later health beliefs and behaviour as adults. In England, three vaccines are routinely recommended for adolescents (human papilloma virus; tetanus, diphtheria and polio; meningitis). Uptake is sub-optimal. Generally, the most common reason for vaccine refusal is fear of side effects. However, not all symptoms experienced after vaccination are necessarily caused by the vaccine itself. Some may reflect existing symptoms misattributed to the vaccine, and others may arise through the expectation that the vaccine will cause side effects (‘nocebo’ effects).

The main objectives of this PhD are to explore adolescent perspectives on vaccination and vaccine side effects, and to investigate psychological and contextual factors associated with vaccine uptake in adolescents, and side-effect perception in vaccinated individuals. 

We hypothesise that:

  • psychological (greater perceived severity of the disease) and contextual (thinking that others will be vaccinated) factors will be associated with greater vaccine uptake.
  • psychological (greater side-effect expectations) and contextual (seeing side effects in other adolescents) factors will be associated with reporting of vaccine side effects.

Three studies will be conducted. First, a systematic review investigating factors associated with uptake of routine vaccines in adolescents, to identify relevant previous literature. Second, a qualitative telephone interview study, to explore facilitators and barriers to vaccination, and beliefs about vaccine side effects in vaccine-eligible adolescents. Third, a prospective cohort study, to investigate the prevalence and relative influence of factors associated with vaccination and reporting of side effects in vaccine-eligible adolescents.


Professor James Rubin, Dr Louise Smith, Professor Richard Amlôt, Dr Catherine Heffernan

Entry requirements

Applicants should have (or be expected to obtain) a Bachelors degree with 2:1 honours (or Overseas equivalent). A 2:2 degree may be considered only where applicants also offer a Masters with Merit.

Award types and eligibility

Students will be fully funded for three years full time, to include home tuition fees (studentship not available to Overseas applicants), annual stipend and some research and travel costs. Overseas applicants may apply, but will need to cover the difference in fees.

To be treated as a Home student, candidates must meet one of the following criteria:

  • A UK national (meeting residency requirements)
  • Settled status
  • Pre-settled status (meeting residency requirements)
  • Indefinite leave to remain or enter

Further information

The PhD will be housed in the NIHR Health Protection Research Unit in Emergency Preparedness and Response (

About the UK Health Security Agency (link to

About the IoPPN (link to

Studying at the IoPPN (link to

Research degrees at the IoPPN (link to

How to apply

Applicants must complete and submit an online admissions application, via the admissions portal by midnight (23:59 GMT), Sunday 4th December 2022.

On the ‘Choosing a programme’ page, please select Psychological Medicine Research MPhil/PhD (Full-time).

In your application, you will be asked to include:

  • Academic Transcripts – where applicable, academic transcripts must be submitted with the online admissions application
  • Details of your qualifications (you will need to attach copies)
  • Details of previous employment - please include your CV
  • A personal statement describing your interests and why you wish to apply for this project. Please include this as an attachment rather than using the text box.
  • Academic References – all admissions applications require one supporting reference. If the applicant is relying on thier referees to submit a reference directly to the College after they have submitted thier admissions application, then the applicant must ensure that (1) their chosen referee is made aware of the funding deadline (i.e. 7 days from application deadline) and (2) that the reference needs to be sent from an institutional email address.

In the Funding section, please tick box 5 and include the following reference: LS-AdolescentVax-23

Please note there is no need to complete the Research Proposal section in your application as the project has already been set.

You are welcome to email Dr Louise Smith (, supervisor) for more information regarding the project and studentship.

If you have any queries regarding the application process, please contact the Education support team at

References must be received by the deadline for the applicant to be eligible.

Only shortlisted applicants will be contacted.

Closing date

Sunday 4th December 2022


14 and 15 December 2022



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