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Health Care Professionals Need to Combat COVID-19 Vaccine Misinformation, Researchers Say

Posted on Jul 01, 2021

Raquel Hernandez, M.D., M.P.H.
Raquel Hernandez, M.D., M.P.H.

Health care professionals, health care organizations, and academic organizations need to do more to combat COVID-19 vaccine misinformation in social media, according to a team of researchers from Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital and the University of South Florida in a recently published commentary.

The paper, published in Human Vaccines and Immunotherapeutics, is based on preliminary data from a broader study titled, “The COVID-19 vaccine social media ‘infodemic:’ healthcare providers’ missed dose in addressing misinformation and vaccine hesitancy,” which suggests health care providers need to overcome what is introduced as “social media hesitancy.”

“Health care professionals and organizations need to prioritize making sure the public has sound, evidence-based information about the COVID-19 vaccine readily available across communication platforms,” says Raquel Hernandez, M.D., M.P.H., an assistant professor of pediatrics in the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine who is based in St. Petersburg, Florida. “We used to be able to share reliable information with the public through academic journals and traditional media like radio and television, but now we need to meet the people where they are: social media.”

In the preliminary findings, Hernandez and researchers from the University of South Florida used a mixed methods approach of quantitative Twitter-based ranking algorithms of networks and users with qualitative content analysis of 1 million tweets related to COVID-19 vaccine conversations. Results show highly polarized and active antivaccine conversations that were primarily influenced by political and nonmedical Twitter users. In contrast, fewer than 10% of the most influential Twitter account information stemmed from the medical community, demonstrating a lack of active health care professional connectivity in addressing COVID-19 misinformation.

The authors say “Health Care Provider Social Media Hesitancy” produces a public health threat by not actively countering misinformation and in limiting the generation of pro-vaccine scientific information on social media. The authors advocate for health care professionals to address their hesitancy through a series of actions, including having providers become active across various social media platforms, having health care organizations reframe social media as an academically and medically valuable information resource, having health care organizations expand conversations with social media executives to identify safeguards against health-care-related misinformation, and encouraging socio-culturally diverse frontline staff and health care professionals to share their personal stories and perspectives on the COVID-19 vaccine.

The authors expect to expound on their findings in a peer-reviewed journal article once the study is complete.

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