Brief Exposure to Misinformation Cuts Intent to Vaccinate by 6 Percentage Points

Dawn O'Shea

February 10, 2021

Brief exposure to misinformation about COVID-19 vaccines is associated with a decrease in intention to accept a vaccine by 6 percentage points, a study published in  Nature Human Behaviour  found.

The study included 8001 respondents to a survey between 7 and 14 September 2020 – 4000 from the UK and 4001 from the US. Following randomised assignment approximately 3000 in each group were exposed to misinformation published on social media platforms. One thousand participants in each group were shown factual information. All participants were asked to indicate their intention to receive the vaccine before and after exposure to both, the misinformation and the factual material.

Before exposure, 54.1 per cent of UK respondents reported that they would definitely take the vaccine to protect themselves, whereas 6 per cent reported they would definitely not. The remainder were unsure.

Misinformation exposure was associated with a decrease in the number of participants who would definitely be vaccinated by 6.2 percentage points. There was an increase of 2.7 percentage points in those who were unsure and 3.3 percentage points in those who would definitely not.

These figures would not meet the proportion of vaccinated people necessary to reach herd immunity.

The proportion of people who would definitely accept the vaccine to protect others was higher than those who would receive the vaccine to protect themselves (63.7%). The exposure to misinformation again induced a decrease in intent to accept the vaccine to protect others (5.7 percentage points).

The authors suggest targeting altruistic messaging may be more effective in increasing uptake rates. However, they say misinformation may already be embedded in the public’s consciousness and could pose challenges ahead.

The authors caution that the results must be placed in the context of this study and may not be generalisable to a real-world setting.

Loomba S, de Figueiredo A, Piatek SJ, de Graaf K, Larson HJ. Measuring the impact of COVID-19 vaccine misinformation on vaccination intent in the UK and USA. Nat Hum Behav. 2021 Feb 5 [Epub ahead of print]. doi: 10.1038/s41562-021-01056-1.PMID: 33547453 View full text

This article originally appeared on Univadis, part of the Medscape Professional Network.

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