Barts-MS rose-tinted-odometer: ★★
Did you know that as of September 2020, only 54.1% of the public in the UK and 42.5% in the USA would ‘definitely’ accept a COVID-19 vaccine to protect themselves?
I sincerely hope these figures are wrong and have changed substantially since September 2020. Why? These vaccine acceptance rates are lower than the proportion of vaccinated people required to achieve the anticipated herd immunity levels for SARS-CoV-2. Interestingly, in the study that produced these disturbing figures (see below), a higher proportion of individuals in both the UK and the USA would ‘definitely’ vaccinate to protect family, friends and at-risk groups, suggesting that effective altruistic messaging may be required to boost vaccine uptake. This is why I have always taken the line that vaccination is not necessarily about you, but society and in the case of COVID-19 vulnerable people.
It is clear that misinformation/disinformation campaigns on social media have a remarkable effect on individual behaviour and lead to vaccine hesitancy. It is clear from recent political events across the globe that we need to move beyond the ‘post-truth era’ and reclaim the moral high ground and to start trusting our experts again. We have put in place institutions, such as our drug regulatory agencies, to protect the public. The fact that they have the necessary ‘deep expertise’ and have vetted and licensed several COVID-19 vaccines makes them safe to use at a population level. So my message is simple if you are offered a chance to be vaccinated with one of the COVID-19 vaccines take up the offer ASAP. The vaccine will not only protect you but your fellow citizens as well. In fact, you will be saving lives.
The more unvaccinated people there are. particularly unvaccinated immunosuppressed individuals, the more opportunity the virus has to mutate and develop immune escape variants, i.e. new virus strains that are resistant to immunity from the current vaccines. These new strains will extend the pandemic, killed more people and make the economic impact of the pandemic worse. Based on this alone several commentators make the point that we all have a duty to be vaccinated.
What this study also shows that there is more to simply fighting the virus to end this pandemic; we have a propaganda war on our hands fighting both misinformation and disinformation about the safety and efficacy of COVID-19 vaccinations. I think we all have a responsibility to join this battle. Everyone needs to say something like ‘I am a vaccinee and proud of it’ or ‘I have done my duty and have had the vaccine’. I am not a marketeer or advertising creative, but if you could come up with some catchy slogans we could then all push them out on social media and start a campaign. What do you think?
Loomba et al. Measuring the impact of COVID-19 vaccine misinformation on vaccination intent in the UK and USA. Nature Human Behaviour (2021); published: 05 February 2021.
The widespread acceptance of a vaccine for severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) will be the next major step in fighting the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, but achieving high uptake will be a challenge and maybe impeded by online misinformation. To inform successful vaccination campaigns, we conducted a randomized controlled trial in the UK and the USA to quantify how exposure to online misinformation around COVID-19 vaccines affects the intent to vaccinate to protect oneself or others. Here we show that in both countries—as of September 2020—fewer people would ‘definitely’ take a vaccine than is likely required for herd immunity, and that, relative to factual information, recent misinformation induced a decline in the intent of 6.2 percentage points (95th percentile interval 3.9 to 8.5) in the UK and 6.4 percentage points (95th percentile interval 4.0 to 8.8) in the USA among those who stated that they would definitely accept a vaccine. We also find that some sociodemographic groups are differentially impacted by exposure to misinformation. Finally, we show that scientific-sounding misinformation is more strongly associated with declines in vaccination intent.