‘When will the Vaccine Arrive?’ Expectations and Misinformation over Covid-19 vaccines in Colombia
Principal Investigators: Juan Carlos Rodríguez Raga, Laura Fernanda Cely, Wilson Forero-Mesa, Juan José Corredor
Drawing on the case of Colombia, this study aims at identifying the effect of misinformation on the intention to get vaccinated against Covid-19. We implemented an online survey experiment in which we randomly assigned respondents to one of four groups: the first one was exposed to misinformation related to the safety of the Covid-19 vaccines; the second one was exposed to information refuting that false narrative, priming it explicitly; the third one received a message highlighting vaccine safety, without priming any concern about it; and the fourth was exposed to information unrelated to Covid-19 (control group). We find that, compared to the control group and to the refutation and vaccine safety messages, exposure to misinformation is related to higher levels of vaccine hesitancy. We also find that priming misinformation in a rebuttal message does not lead to more hesitancy. By recognizing how Covid-19 immunization messages influence citizens’ intentions to get vaccinated, our results shed light on future challenges to immunization plans in the Global South.
Under the assumption that nations in the Global South are welcoming and in need of vaccines and given years of massive immunization campaigns, misinformation on vaccines has been understudied in Latin America. However, the current pandemic has spread along with misleading information regarding how governments should address the virus, bringing to the region debates about a possible vaccine. Drawing on the case of Colombia, this study aims to identify the effect of misinformation on the intention to get vaccinated against Covid-19. We propose a survey experiment where we divide respondents into four groups: one group is exposed to misinformation related to a Covid-19 vaccine popular on social media, two are exposed to different types of information refuting those false narrative, and one is exposed to non-related information (control group). By recognizing how Covid-19 immunization discourses influence citizen’s intentions to get vaccinated, our results shed light on current and future challenges to vaccination plans.
Our experimental setting is loosely based of Featherstone & Zhang (2020). We will perform a vignette experiment on one misinforming narrative concerning scientists and health professionals promoting the vaccine without certainty about their safety (Uncertainty framing). This framing will have three treatments: In one, respondents will be exposed to misinformation, and in the other two, they will be exposed to a message refuting that misinformation in the. These two refutational messages differ from each other in that one will explicitly refer to the misinformation narrative (possibly having spillover effects), while the other will refrain from priming the misinformation. Each treatment outcome will be compared to a control group that will receive information with no relation to health or vaccines. The basic experiment involves pairwise comparisons of response means regarding IoV between each treatment group and the control group.
The variable of interest is the intention to vaccinate (IoV) against Covid-19. Bearing that in mind, we have two main hypotheses, one for each treatment.
- Exposure to medical uncertainty misinformation with regards to the Covid-19 vaccines reduces IoV.
- Exposure to refutational messages with no explicit reference to the misinformative narratives increases IoV.
We are agnostic regarding the effect of the exposure to refutational messages with explicit reference to misinformation.
We conducted a survey experiment in June-July, 2021 in Colombia, a country where vaccine hesitancy is low and anti-vaccine attitudes are rare. The main findings are the following:
- Even in a context of high vaccine acceptance, exposure to misinformation concerning Covid-19 vaccines increases vaccine hesitancy.
- Common strategies to rebut misinformation are not enough to significantly change hesitancy. Although respondents exposed to such messages show lower vaccine hesitancy levels than those who received misinformation, neither fact-checking nor pro-vaccine safety messages decrease vaccine hesitancy compared to the control. In any case, messages that prime misinformation also do not seem to increase hesitancy.
- Some population groups are more prone to change their attitudes towards Covid-19 vaccines once they are exposed to misinformation. Specifically, misinformation negatively affects vaccine intention especially for younger individuals.
- Beyond misinformation, other factors may reduce the intention to be vaccinated against Covid-19, especially religious attitudes and emotions. Individuals who report that religion is very important in their lives, and those who express anger towards the pandemic, tend to be more hesitant vis-à-vis the vaccines regardless of the group they were assigned in our experiment.
Our results shed light on future challenges to immunization plans. Misinformation is a threat even where there is not a tradition of anti-vaccine movements, and common informational strategies do not seem to be enough to counter its effects.