Popular COVID-19 conspiracies linked to vaccine ‘hesitancy’


15-10-2020
  Protesters at a 'Reopen' rally in Harrisburg, PA, in the United States  Credit: Paul Weaver

An international study finds that people who rate coronavirus conspiracy theories as more reliable are much less likely to say they will get vaccinated.

A new study of beliefs and attitudes toward COVID-19 in five different countries – UK, US, Ireland, Mexico and Spain – has identified how much traction some prominent conspiracy theories have within these populations.

The research reveals 'key predictors' for susceptibility to fake pandemic news, and finds that a small increase in the perceived reliability of conspiracies equates to a larger drop in the intention to get vaccinated.

Scientists from the University of Cambridge gathered data from national samples in each country, and asked participants to rate the reliability of several statements, including six popular myths about COVID-19.

While a large majority of people in all five nations judged the misinformation to be unreliable, researchers found that certain conspiracy theories have taken root in significant portions of the population.

The conspiracy deemed most valid across the board was the claim that COVID-19 was engineered in a Wuhan laboratory. Between 22-23% of respondents in the UK and United States rated this assertion as “reliable”. In Ireland this rose to 26%, while in Mexico and Spain it jumped to 33% and 37% respectively.

This was followed by the idea that the pandemic is “part of a plot to enforce global vaccination”, with 22% of the Mexican population rating this as reliable, along with 18% in Ireland, Spain and the US, and 13% in the UK.

The notorious 5G conspiracy – that some telecommunication towers are worsening COVID-19 symptoms – holds sway over smaller but still significant segments: 16% in Mexico, 16% in Spain, 12% in Ireland, and 8% in both the UK and US. The study is published in the journal Royal Society Open Science.

“Certain misinformation claims are consistently seen as reliable by substantial sections of the public. We find a clear link between believing coronavirus conspiracies and hesitancy around any future vaccine,” said Dr Sander van der Linden, co-author and Director of the Cambridge Social Decision-Making Lab.

“As well as flagging false claims, governments and technology companies should explore ways to increase digital media literacy in the population. Otherwise, developing a working vaccine might not be enough.”

Earlier this week, the Social Decision-Making Lab launched a project with the UK Cabinet Office: Go Viral!, a short online game that helps 'inoculate' players against fake news by lifting the lid on common misinformation techniques. 

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Image: Protesters at a 'Reopen' rally in Harrisburg, PA, in the United States

Credit: Paul Weaver

Reproduced courtesy of the University of Cambridge

 

The University of Cambridge is acknowledged as one of the world's leading higher education and research institutions. The University was instrumental in the formation of the Cambridge Network and its Vice- Chancellor, Professor Stephen Toope, is also the President of the Cambridge Network.

University of Cambridge (cam.ac.uk)