As COVID-19 vaccines are rolled out across the world, there are growing concerns about the roles that trust, belief in conspiracy theories, and spread of misinformation through social media play in impacting vaccine hesitancy. We use a nationally representative survey of 1476 adults in the UK between 12 and 18 December 2020, along with 5 focus groups conducted during the same period. Trust is a core predictor, with distrust in vaccines in general and mistrust in government raising vaccine hesitancy. Trust in health institutions and experts and perceived personal threat are vital, with focus groups revealing that COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy is driven by a misunderstanding of herd immunity as providing protection, fear of rapid vaccine development and side effects, and beliefs that the virus is man-made and used for population control. In particular, those who obtain information from relatively unregulated social media sources—such as YouTube—that have recommendations tailored by watch history, and who hold general conspiratorial beliefs, are less willing to be vaccinated. Since an increasing number of individuals use social media for gathering health information, interventions require action from governments, health officials, and social media companies. More attention needs to be devoted to helping people understand their own risks, unpacking complex concepts, and filling knowledge voids.
From the article:
Our findings linking YouTube users to COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy are novel, but in line with existing research on other vaccines. A study of YouTube vaccine content found that 65.5% of videos discouraged vaccine use, focussing on autism, undisclosed risks, adverse reactions, and alleged mercury content . A 2017 analysis of 560 YouTube vaccine videos in Italy found that the majority of videos were negative, linking vaccines with autism and serious side effects . Those who refused vaccines in the focus groups had low levels of trust in the government, and believed that the virus was man-made or a type of population control for certain groups. Individuals who were younger and had lower levels of education were also vaccine-hesitant.
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