Expert Alert

COVID-19 vaccines, misinformation and attitudes

Panayiota Kendeou and Emily Vraga.

Each day, thousands of people across the U.S. receive their first doses of a COVID-19 vaccination. Health care providers and public health officials hope that the vaccines given now and, in the future, will help control the spread of COVID-19 and save lives. 

However, as the nation begins to ramp up its vaccination rate, misinformation about the vaccines are spreading. University of Minnesota Professor Panayiota Kendeou and Associate Professor Emily Vraga, both co-authors on The COVID-19 Vaccine: Communication Handbook, are available to comment about how this vaccine fits into the overall attitudes toward vaccination and how to address misinformation.

Panayiota Kendeou, Ph.D.
“Many across the country and around the world recognize the importance of what a COVID-19 vaccine means for their health and the health of those around them: It’s a layer of protection against a virus that has killed more than 1.8 million people and sickened 88 million others. 

“However, vaccination acceptance is dynamic and varies depending where you are in the world. In the U.S., a November Pew Research Center poll found an acceptance rate of about 60%. A variety of factors can contribute to how a person feels about a vaccine, from safety to concerns to being a vaccine opponent or believing in false information.

“Understanding what may be driving vaccine rejection or hesitancy among certain populations can help address concerns and tailor communication efforts. For example, hesitancy around new vaccines is not uncommon. Being transparent about risks, such as warning those who may have had allergic reactions to vaccines in the past to speak with their doctor before being vaccinated, is key to addressing those concerns.”

Panayiota (Pani) Kendeou, Ph.D., is a Professor and Guy Bond Chair in Reading at the Department of Educational Psychology in the College of Education and Human Development at the University of Minnesota. Her recent work focuses on identifying, researching and implementing strategies that reduce the impact of misinformation. Kendeou is a co-author of The COVID-19 Vaccine: Communication Handbook.

Emily Vraga, Ph.D.
“False information and conspiracy theories have been shown to impact how people perceive COVID-19 and its vaccine, leading to individuals deciding they will not be vaccinated. It’s important to note that those looking to spread misinformation — especially about science — use a series of techniques we call FLICC: fake experts, logical fallacies, impossible expectations, cherry picking, and conspiracy theories.

“Understanding those techniques are the first step in helping inoculate the public from misinformation, which can spread far and wide very quickly. The first step to take is what’s known as ‘prebunking.’ To do this, people are warned ahead of time that they may be misled and then the facts are shared. In doing so, you are helping people become resilient to future manipulation attempts.

“If misinformation has already spread, ‘debunking’ is the next step. However, succeeding at this is difficult, as people already hold a belief that false information is true which, in turn, continues to influence people’s thinking and behavior. Debunking follows this pattern: share the facts, warn about and repeat the falsehood one time, explain why it is false, and repeat the facts. This strategy has been shown to effectively combat vaccine-related misinformation.”

Emily Vraga, Ph.D., is the Don and Carole Larson Associate Professor in Health Communication in the Hubbard School of Journalism and Mass Communication in the College of Liberal Arts at the University of Minnesota. Her research focuses on how individuals respond to news and information about contentious health, scientific and political issues in digital environments. Vraga is a co-author of The COVID-19 Vaccine: Communication Handbook.

Download images of Panayiota Kendeou and Emily Vraga.

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Mon, 01/11/2021 - 08:59
COVID-19 vaccines, misinformation and attitudes
University of Minnesota, Twin Cities