Daily Briefing

Charted: Belief in vaccine misinformation has grown


Belief in vaccine misinformation, including that they are ineffective or that they cause autism, has grown since the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a recent survey from the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania.

Survey details

For the survey, researchers spoke to more than 1,500 adults between October 5 and October 12.

Beliefs in specific vaccine misinformation have increased, including the belief that "increased vaccines are why so many kids have autism these days." The percentage of people who incorrectly said that statement is true grew from 10% in April 2021 to 16%, while the percentage of people who said the statement was false dropped from 71% to 65%.

An increasing percentage of people also incorrectly believe that "vaccines in general are full of toxins and harmful ingredients like 'antifreeze.'" The percentage of people who said that statement is true increased from 8% in April 2021 to 12% in the most recent survey.

In addition, over a quarter of people incorrectly said ivermectin is an effective COVID-19 treatment, an increase from 10% in September 2021. However, the percentage of people who know this is false also increased from 27% to 37%, while the percentage of those who were unsure dropped from 63% to 38%.

The survey also found that 12% of respondents said it's true that mRNA vaccines against COVID-19 "cause cancer," an increase from 9% in January 2023.

In general, the number of Americans who think vaccines approved for use in the United States are safe dropped from 77% in April 2021 to 71% in the most recent survey and the percentage of adults who don't believe vaccines approved in the United States are safe increased from 9% to 16% over the same period.

Just under two-thirds of respondents said they believe it's safer to get the COVID-19 vaccine than to get the disease, down from 77% in November 2021. Meanwhile, the percentage of people who believe getting COVID-19 is safer than getting vaccinated increased from 10% in April 2021 to 21% now.

The survey also found that belief that the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR), COVID-19, and pneumonia vaccines are safe all declined in statistically significant amounts from the August 2022 survey.

Respondents are also less confident in the efficacy of various vaccines than they were in previous surveys.

Specifically, the percentage of people who believe the MMR, flu, pneumonia, and HPV vaccines are effective all dropped statistically significant amounts since the August 2022 survey.

When asked about their lives returning to normal following the COVID-19 pandemic, the survey found that 67% said they have already returned to their pre-COVID lives, up from 52% in January 2023. However, 20% of respondents said they will never return to normal, pre-COVID lives, up from 16% in June 2023.

In addition, the survey found that 75% of respondents said they never or rarely wear a mask when with people who are not part of their household, which is statistically unchanged from the June 2023 survey. Meanwhile, 21% said they sometimes, often, or always wear a mask or face covering.

Discussion

Kathleen Hall Jamieson, director of the Annenberg Center and director of the survey, said she was surprised by the survey results.

"Instead of plateauing, levels of misinformation increased as the pandemic was winding down," she said. "For a worrisome part of the population, the rhetoric surrounding COVID vaccination increased acceptance of misinformation and decreased confidence in vaccines."

"There are warning signs in these data that we ignore at our peril," Jamieson said in a press release. "Growing numbers now distrust health-protecting, life-saving vaccines."

Jamieson added that there are several factors that can influence whether someone chooses to get vaccinated, including their past vaccination status.

"Reliance on mainstream media sources is associated with higher trust in public health experts, higher levels of knowledge about vaccination, and higher levels of reported COVID-19 vaccination," she said, adding that having more information about the safety of past vaccines, or awareness of the approval process by FDA and CDC, can also increase willingness to get vaccinated.

The Biden administration has made efforts to combat health misinformation. In 2021, Surgeon General Vivek Murthy said misinformation posed "a serious threat to public health" in an advisory urging individuals to take responsibility to stopping the spread of misinformation.

"Health misinformation is a serious threat to public health. It can cause confusion, sow mistrust, harm people’s health, and undermine public health efforts," Murthy said. "Limiting the spread of health misinformation is a moral and civic imperative that will require a whole-of-society effort." (Hassan, CNN, 11/1; Annenberg Public Policy Center survey, 11/1)


Toolkit: COVID-19 Vaccine Communications Readiness Assessment

Develop a strong COVID-19 vaccine communication strategy that shares information, addresses patient concerns, and encourages uptake.


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