With coronavirus disease (COVID-19) threatening the globe and infecting over 43.8 million people, developing a vaccine for the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) is of paramount importance.
In addition to the spread of the vaccine, its public acceptance is also of crucial importance. Because of the growing misinformation online, achieving high uptake of the vaccine will be a challenging task.
A new study by researchers at Imperial College London and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine aimed to determine how online misinformation affects COVID-19 vaccine intake intent. The team also wanted to identify socio-economic groups at higher risk of not getting vaccinated and those who are most susceptible to online misinformation.
Study: Measuring the Impact of Exposure to COVID-19 Vaccine Misinformation on Vaccine Intention in the UK and US. Photo credit: Lichtquelle / Shutterstock
The internet and social media platforms are major sources of information amid the coronavirus pandemic as most people were locked in their homes during the lockdown. Although health officials and experts tried to provide as much information as possible about the disease, many people have been exposed to misinformation online.
Vaccination is seen as an essential weapon against the virus. There are currently over 200 vaccine candidates in development. Once a vaccine is available, it is estimated that at least 55 percent of the population must be given it to ensure herd immunity.
Achieving these levels is essential, but many regions around the world suffer from vaccine reluctance, often due to online and offline misinformation about the safety, importance, or effectiveness of vaccines.
There are currently 44 vaccines in the clinical evaluation phase. Ten of them are in the final phase of clinical studies. While many vaccines are nearing completion in clinical trials, there are widespread false stories about the pandemic. With misinformation about vaccines, it can be difficult to convince people worldwide to get the vaccine when it is available to the public.
Widespread misinformation on social media about a COVID-19 vaccine between June and August 2020. Five images were selected for each of the UK and US countries (see Methods) to make them available to respondents. These “treatment” picture sets were shown to 3,000 respondents in the UK (A) and the US (B).
In the study, which was published on the medRxiv * preprint server, researchers developed a COVID-19 survey form to measure vaccination intent before and after exposure to online sources of the most recent misinformation related to COVID-19 and vaccines .
In total, the team surveyed more than 8,000 people in the UK and the US. Of these, the team exposed 3,000 respondents in each country to misinformation, while the remaining 1,000 in each country displayed data on a COVID-19 vaccine that provided factual information.
Widespread dissemination of facts on social media related to a COVID-19 vaccine between June and August 2020. The same five images were selected for exposure to respondents in the UK and US (see Methods). These “control” sets of images were shown to 1,000 respondents in the UK and US.
The researchers also considered key data such as age, gender, type of employment, highest level of education, ethnicity, income level, and religious affiliation. This also included the sources of trust for information about COVID-19, use of social media, political beliefs, and reasons for uncertainty about vaccination against COVID-19.
They also calculated the determinants of COVID-19 vaccine intent both before and after exposure to information about the vaccine. That way, they can determine which groups are already less likely to receive the vaccine and which are at risk of misinformation about COVID-19 vaccines.
What the study found
The team found that the recent misinformation about the COVID-19 vaccination reduced people’s intention to get the shot, even if it was up to 6.4 percent otherwise in the UK and 2.4 percent in the US would vaccinate
In addition, the team found greater decreases in intent to vaccinate to protect others. In terms of socio-demographic profile, the elderly in the United States are more prone to misinformation about vaccines. Non-whites and low-income people are more likely to oppose a COVID-19 vaccine. Interestingly, the team also found that people with the highest level of education under graduate degrees are at increased risk of refusing a COVID-19 vaccine.
In both countries, those with the highest level of education among postgraduate degrees, low-income groups, and non-whites are more likely to oppose a COVID-19 vaccine.
In short, the team concluded that scientific-sounding misinformation related to COVID-19 and vaccines may reduce people’s intent to get vaccinated.
“These results show how recent COVID-19 misinformation can impact vaccination rates and suggest avenues for robust messaging campaigns,” the researchers concluded.
The results of the study highlight the importance of understanding the importance of public health communication strategies in providing factual information about the pandemic and the benefits of vaccination. Accurate information can help to reduce vaccination rejection not only for COVID-19 but also for other infectious diseases.
* Important NOTE
medRxiv publishes preliminary scientific reports that are not peer-reviewed and, therefore, should not be considered conclusive, guide clinical practice / health-related behavior, or treated as established information.