Vaccine Insights Hub
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Vaccine Insights Hub

Live insights, intelligence and reporting guidance on emerging health and vaccine misinformation.

Actor dies while shooting film, prompting unevidenced speculation

Google Trends

The news that actor Jay Pickett died while shooting a film has sparked unevidenced speculation on social media and anonymous message boards that Pickett died due to being vaccinated against Covid-19. The cause of Pickett’s death has not been announced; adverse vaccine effects only occur in a small percentage of vaccine recipients and are mostly mild.

Keenan Chen, August 2

  1. Jay Pickett vaccine, +3,500%
  2. Vaccine failure, +120%
  3. RSV vaccine, +100%
  4. Covid vaccine for children under 12, +80%
  5. Hepatitis B vaccine, +50%

In Europe, disinformation around ‘vaccine passports’ grows

Google Trends

In the wake of large protests against “vaccine passports” and “green passes” in several European countries, disinformation and criticism continued to grow online, often fueled by false claims, far-right fringe articles and inflammatory YouTube videos.

The protesters claim the health passes, which will restrict access to services to unvaccinated people, violate individual freedom and are used by governments to control the population as part of a wider, long-term move to a totalitarian system.

Among others, “sanitary dictatorship” spiked on French and Italian Facebook Pages and public Groups, reaching over a million interactions in the last week — compared to just over 200,000 the week before. On Instagram, some 449,131 posts contained the French and Italian phrases for ‘sanitary dictatorship’ in the last seven days, compared to 79,000 the week before.

Civil liberty concerns ostensibly formed a core part of online discussions opposed to lockdowns, masks and other measures to curb the spread of Covid-19 in several European countries, especially in France and Italy.

Carlotta Dotto, July 27

Vaccine mandates: What’s next for misinformation?

Online narratives

Yesterday, the US Department of Veterans Affairs became the first federal agency to announce that its frontline medical workers will be required to get vaccinated against Covid-19, while New York City and California also announced plans for vaccine mandates. California’s requirement, like the VA’s, applies to health workers; New York’s will apply to around 350,000 city workers, including police officers and teachers. Those who decline to get vaccinated in New York City or California will have the option of weekly Covid-19 testing.

The moves look set to raise the volume when it comes to Covid-19 misinformation. Prominent American sources of Covid-19 misinformation — many of whom have already spoken out against vaccine mandates or the related “vaccine passports” — have long crafted narratives that draw on generalized concerns about personal freedom. In many cases, these individuals and groups have also spread conspiracy theories about nefarious plots to control populations.

A backlash against vaccine mandates in the US could take many forms; for example, the New York Police Department, the country’s largest police force, recently revealed that 43 per cent of officers have been vaccinated, a figure significantly below the citywide rate of around 65 per cent. An NYPD spokesperson told the Associated Press that the department is working to confront anti-vaccine misinformation within its ranks.

— First Draft staff, July 27

More vaccine-or-test mandates likely coming in New York City

Twitter list

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio is expected on July 26 to announce an expansion of the mandate for city workers to get vaccinated against Covid-19, or if not, to get weekly tests for the coronavirus. The new mandate would reportedly cover all 300,000-plus city workers. Last week, NBC reported that former federal health officials expect more government agencies and businesses to enact vaccine mandates once the Food and Drug Administration officially approves a vaccine. (Vaccines are currently available in the US under emergency use authorization.)

You can use this list to track updates out of New York City.

Chris Looft, July 26

Queries about J&J vaccine and a possible booster shot

Google Trends

Several of the top emerging vaccine-related search queries in the past day in the US were related to a preprint paper that found the Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccine to be much less effective against the Delta variant than the original strain, and suggested that recipients of this vaccine receive an mRNA-based vaccine booster shot.

But in a press release from earlier this month, the CDC insisted that the “fully vaccinated do not need a booster shot at this time.”

  1. Vaccine deliveries crossword, +1,800%
  2. J&J vaccine delta variant, +600%
  3. Sean Hannity vaccine, +250%
  4. 45000 die from vaccine, +200%
  5. JnJ vaccine, +190%
    Keenan Chen, July 21

Misinformation about the Pfizer vaccine and booster shots

Online narratives

As talk of a third booster shot grows in part over Pfizer’s decision to seek emergency authorization for them in the US  — though scientists and health officials note there is no evidence they are needed yet — false and misleading claims about the Pfizer vaccine and booster shots continue to spread online. 

Alex Berenson, who frequently spreads misinformation about the coronavirus and vaccines, falsely claimed that new Israeli data showed “complete vaccine failure on every level” in a Twitter post shared at least 3,200 times. He cited Israeli health ministry data released on Sunday that showed that the majority of Covid-19 cases and deaths were among vaccinated people (as is expected in a highly vaccinated country). The claims also do not include the context that hospitalizations and deaths in Israel remain low compared to previous waves before mass vaccinations; and older people who remain at higher risk are over-represented among the fully vaccinated. There is some debate within the Israeli medical community over Pfizer’s exact efficacy figures when it comes to the highly contagious Delta variant, and whether Sunday’s figures reflect slightly lower effectiveness of the Pfizer vaccine against the Delta variant or that the data is skewed because of heavy testing in hot spots. (This same data has also been shared in Russian anti-vaccine groups and channels.) Nevertheless, there is scientific consensus in Israel and elsewhere that the vaccines remain highly effective in preventing serious Covid-19 and in substantially reducing transmission. 

Lucy Swinnen, July 19

 

"Local Relevance" filter on CrowdTangle

Search tip

Facebook’s data tool CrowdTangle may soon face the chopping block, but so far the platform continues to update it with new features.

“Local Relevance” is a new filter on CrowdTangle’s search dashboard that allows you to search for Pages and public groups with an audience that is concentrated in a specific location. For example, a search for “Delta variant” with the Local Relevance filter set to the state of Georgia will bring up results from mainly Georgia-based sources.

Shaydanay Urbani, July 16

Top news articles

The news articles in English that mention “vaccine,” “vaccines” or “vaccination” with the most interactions (likes, shares and comments) on Facebook and Twitter in the last 24 hours. Predicted interactions are for the next 24 hours. Sometimes a story with the same headline might appear twice, but this will be two separate publications. (Source: NewsWhip)

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Insights on vaccine hesitancy

Insights about vaccine hesitancy and misinformation to inform your reporting, campaigns and responses online.

Insights on vaccine hesitancy

The psychology of vaccine hesitancy

A study across 24 countries found vaccine hesitancy was highest among those who:

  • embraced conspiratorial thinking
  • had reactance against authority
  • reported disgust toward blood and needles
  • had strong individualistic or hierarchical worldviews

These findings indicate communication tactics that may backfire and increase hesitancy among many, such as imagery of syringes and authoritative messages. The moral values of “purity” and “liberty” have also been linked with anti-vaccination views, indicating that vaccine hesitancy isn’t just about facts.

The role of structural racism

The historical treatment of communities of color by medical institutions is critical to understanding vaccine hesitancy. Many have experienced discrimination in access to medical care, having their ailments taken seriously and addressed, and as in the case of the Tuskegee syphilis experiment, some communities have experienced medical experimentation by the state.

These injustices are often exploited by disinformation campaigns, which play into anxieties about communities of color being treated as test cases. First Draft’s Claire Wardle and internet researcher Renée DiResta also note that “the black community has been targeted with the conspiracy theory that young black males are disproportionately vulnerable to autism if they receive the MMR vaccine.”

In a compelling personal account, an epidemiologist explains how structural racism has made her question immunization programs despite her expertise.

Vaccine hesitancy across countries

Ipsos Mori has released its latest findings in a public poll on vaccine intent. Every country measured has seen an increase in people’s intent to get vaccinated. Learn more in its report.

The percentage of respondents who agree with the statement, “If a vaccine for Covid-19 were available, I would get it.” Source: Ipsos Mori, Jan 2021

The 3 C’s

The World Health Organization uses a “3 C’s model” to explain vaccine hesitancy:

Confidence: lack of trust in the effectiveness and safety of vaccines, the system and people delivering them, and the motivations of policy makers

Convenience: when vaccines are seen as taking too much effort to access

Complacency: when vaccines are considered unnecessary

A (very) brief introduction to vaccine hesitancy

Opposition to vaccination can be traced to the very introduction of vaccines, such as the 1866 founding in Britain of the National Anti-Vaccination League, culminating in an 1885 protest that reportedly attracted up to 100,000 people. Hesitancy is informed by personal experiences, trust, religious and moral convictions, perceptions of risk and misinformation. Today, vaccine hesitancy is a spectrum characterized by professor Julie Leask as a five-layer pyramid of acceptance:

  1. the “refuser” of all vaccines (<2%)
  2. the “late or selective vaccinator” (2–27%)
  3. the “hesitant” (20–30%)
  4. the “cautious acceptor” (25–35%)
  5. the “unquestioning acceptor” (30–40%)

The role of motherhood

Before the pandemic, anti-vaccine communities were mainly focused on women, particularly new mothers.

One study found that 89% of people posting anti-vaccine comments online were women. Another found that “anti-vaccination pages on Facebook reflect a highly ‘feminized’ movement,” with 73% of active members being women. Researchers concluded that the contemporary anti-vaccine movement is “now, more than ever, ‘a mother’s question.’”

Insights on vaccine misinformation

6 types of vaccine narratives

Narratives are powerful in shaping attitudes and behaviors and when it comes to vaccines, narratives can be broken down into six main types. Read more in Under The Surface.

Political & economic motives: Trust in the political and economic motives of key figures, governments, institutions and corporations involved with vaccines. 

Safety, efficacy & necessity: Whether vaccines are perceived to be safe, effective or needed.

Development, provision & access: The progress and challenges of vaccine development, including trials as well as who takes part, when and how.

Conspiracy theory: Well-established or novel conspiracy theories involving vaccines.

Liberty & freedom: How vaccines are perceived to affect civil liberties and personal freedom.

Morality & religion: Moral and religious concerns around vaccines, such as their composition and how they are tested.

Principles for reporting

The Wellcome Trust offer 10 principles for reporting on Covid-19 vaccines – worth keeping to hand if you’re involved in communications around the vaccines.

10 Principles for reporting on Covid-19 vaccines

Facts vs. identities

Vaccine hesitancy is affected by misinformation, but also by identity and values. 

In English-language communities, the value of civil liberties is particularly important: One study finds that followers of anti-vaccine Facebook Pages articulate their views in terms of anti-authoritarian values and freedom. A study of anti-vaccine content on Facebook reached a similar conclusion, with the authors arguing that that “[f]raming vaccine refusal as a civil right [issue] allows vaccine opponents to sidestep the science, and instead debate about values, especially the value of freedom of choice.”

Consider how these values can be engaged with and challenged; for example, by reconsidering freedom at the level of the community rather than the individual.

Why data deficits are so important

The Royal Society and the British Academy concluded in a review of the literature on vaccine misinformation that vaccine hesitancy “is not the result of misinformation, but rather an information and knowledge deficit.”

Deficits are created when people are seeking credible information but not finding it. Sometimes this is because of unanswered questions, which create a vacuum for information, and that’s when misinformation rushes in and is prioritized in search results.

In your research, look for sincere questions and niche terms that provoke uncertainty, then address them with clear reporting information.

How to debunk health misinformation

When a falsehood is spreading among your audience, it’s important to debunk it. A joint report by Full Fact, Chequeado and AfricaCheck offers several recommendations:

  1. Don’t give bad information more exposure
  2. Avoid inducing fear
  3. Remember that many vaccine-hesitant individuals hate needles
  4. Emphasize “high safety” instead of “low risk”
  5. Avoid imagery of syringes, blood, sharp objects
  6. Target the general public, not vocal vaccine deniers

Gain mastery over misinformation

Our flexible learning course, designed and run by First Draft’s highly experienced team, will help you stay one step ahead of those spreading conspiracies and false claims about vaccines. 

The live online workshops have now passed, but don’t worry, you can recap on all previous sessions in English below. 
Alternatively, eight other languages are available on our YouTube channel. Just choose your language below.

| عربي | Português | 漢語 | Français | Deutsch | हिन्दी | Italiano | Español |

How to understand vaccine misinformation

An overview of the misinformation landscape and a rundown of commonly used tactics for spreading misinformation online.

→ Download the study companion

How to identify the key vaccine narratives

A summary of the dominant vaccine narratives, misinformation and data defects on social media platforms.

→ Download the study companion

How to search for content online

Tips and tricks for better searching, including using Boolean queries and smarter keywords.

→ Download the study companion

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Guidance on reporting

Expert guidance to inform your reporting on vaccine misinformation.

Vaccine misinformation challenges in 2021

How can we prevent harm when reporting on vaccine misinformation?

Dr. Claire Wardle (First Draft), Dr. Glen Nowak (University of Georgia’s Center for Health and Risk Communication), Ifeoma Ozoma (Earthseed), and Jen Schwartz (Scientific American) discuss challenges of reporting on vaccine misinformation in 2021.

Mésinformation autour des vaccins en 2021

Comment éviter des effets nuisibles lorsque nous couvrons les mésinformations autour des vaccins?

Julie Charpentrat (AFP), Leonardo Heyerdahl (Institut Pasteur), Seb Cubbon (First Draft) et Marie Bohner (First Draft) abordent les défis liés au reportage sur les mésinformations autour des vaccins en 2021.

Misinformación sobre vacunas en 2021

 ¿Cómo prevenir el daño de amplificar la desinformación sobre las vacunas?

Elodie Martinez (AFP), Rory Smith (First Draft) y Jaime Longoria (First Draft) discuten los retos que enfrentan los periodistas al cubrir la desinformación sobre las vacunas en 2021.