As new coronavirus variants continue to emerge, in order to better address vaccine-related concerns and promote vaccine uptake in the next few years, the role played by online communities in shaping individuals’ vaccine attitudes has become an important lesson for public health practitioners and policymakers to learn. Examining the mechanism that underpins the impact of participating in online communities on the attitude toward COVID-19 vaccines, this study adopted a two-stage hybrid structural equation modeling (SEM)-artificial neural networks (ANN) approach to analyze the survey responses from 1037 Reddit community members. Findings from SEM demonstrated that in leading up to positive COVID-19 vaccine attitudes, sense of online community mediates the positive effects of perceived emotional support and social media usage, and perceived social norm mediates the positive effect of sense of online community as well as the negative effect of political conservatism. Health self-efficacy plays a moderating role between perceived emotional support and perceived social norm of COVID-19 vaccination. Results from the ANN model showed that online community members’ perceived social norm of COVID-19 vaccination acts as the most important predictor of positive COVID-19 vaccine attitudes. This study highlights the importance of harnessing online communities in designing COVID-related public health interventions and accelerating normative change in relation to vaccination.

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