Misinformation about COVID-19 vaccines could threaten the goal of herd immunity by reducing vaccine uptake, a study involving thousands in the US and the UK found.
The study was published in the journal, Nature Human Behaviour, by researchers from Imperial College London and London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) that included a total of 8,001 people in the two countries. The willingness to accept a potential COVID-19 vaccine when noted before and after the exposure to misinformation was found to be reduced by around 6 percent.
FIT spoke with one of the first authors of the study, Sahil Loomba, to know more about the impact of online misinformation on vaccination drive.
India has seen higher rates of vaccine confidence and has favoured mass-vaccinations in the past, but it is not immune to misinformation. “India has historically had higher rates of vaccine confidence than most other countries in the West. However, as more and more people use and rely on social media to get their information, any organised effort to create and spread misinformation online may have detrimental effects on public health campaigns for widespread acceptance of a COVID-19 vaccine,” Loomba said.
Social media giants have been proactively removing content that spreads vaccine misinformation from their platforms. However, that might not be enough.
In recent weeks, some social media platforms have introduced more responsible policies to combat the spread of online misinformation about COVID-19 vaccines. It is important to understand that just removing such content is not sufficient or even optimal, given that misinformation can often shift to alternate channels of communication where they can become harder to combat. It is crucial to provide the users of these platforms with context on why a certain piece of flagged content is regarded as misinformation.Sahil Loomba, author of the study
According to the World Health Organisation, about 60-70 percent of the world’s population needs to be vaccinated for us to reach herd immunity. Some scientists quote an even higher number. The researchers of the study found that new and innovative messaging and transparency could be important tools to fight online misinformation and vaccine hesitancy.
“One common aspect in both countries that were studied found that misinformation identified as having the most impact was made to have a scientific appeal, like drawing a direct connection between COVID-19 vaccines and their adverse effects by using scientific imagery and links,” Loomba said.
India has successfully administered close to 3 crore doses of the vaccine in the first and second phases. The pace was much slower than expected in the first phase where health and frontline workers were inoculated.
However, the numbers increased once vaccination of the elderly and those between the ages of 45-59 with comorbidities were opened up. The inoculation of public figures also helped in boosting the number of vaccinations.
The Central government is taking the threat of rumours and misinformation around the COVID-19 vaccines seriously and has asked states to check the spread of misinformation. It has also asked the states to take penal action against people disseminating wrong and ill-informed news.
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(This story was originally published in FIT and has been republished with permission)
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