Coronavirus (1197) Inoculating against COVID-19 vaccine misinformation

28 March, 2021

Below are the citation and extracts of an interesting Comment in the Lancet journal EClinical Medicine.

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CITATION: Inoculating against COVID-19 vaccine misinformation

Sander van der Linden et al.

Lancet EClinical Medicine, Commentary volume 33, 100772, march 01, 2021

Published: February 26, 2021 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.eclinm.2021.100772

Misinformation has the potential to adversely affect vaccine uptake... A common method to combat vaccine misinformation involves debunking false claims. Though seemingly intuitive, research has found that this approach can exacerbate, rather than correct, the negative effects of misinformation...

Therefore, confronting COVID-19 vaccine misinformation necessitates pre-emptive action to “immunize the public against misinformation” — a process that draws on the concept of psychological inoculation. Psychological inoculation closely follows the biomedical analogy: just as exposure to a weakened dose of a virus helps the body immunologically resist future infection, so too can preemptively exposing people to a weakened dose of misinformation help people psychologically “resist” that misinformation should it be encountered in the future. Inoculation works by warning people in advance and by cultivating the “cognitive antibodies” they need to withstand misinformation through a process known as refutational preemption (or pre-bunking). Research has found that such inoculation methods make people less susceptible to—and better able to identify and discern—misinformation. Of course, like some medical vaccines, inoculation effects can wane over time, necessitating regular “booster shots” (e.g., message repetition)...

Recent research has focused on “broad-spectrum” inoculation strategies that more generally target the rhetorical and manipulation techniques that underpin misinformation. For example, the novel fake news game GoViral!, which was released in collaboration with the UK Government in 2020 (with support from the WHO and United Nations), offers a social media simulation that preemptively exposes and warns people about common COVID-19 misinformation tactics such as the use of fearmongering, fake experts, and conspiracy theories...

In short, there is an urgent need to counter the growing wave of COVID-19 vaccine misinformation by a) taking more pre-emptive action via inoculation messages — especially around the medical consensus on safety and efficacy — and b) by unveiling and defanging the manipulation techniques used to dupe people with vaccine-related misinformation...

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Neil Pakenham-Walsh, HIFA Coordinator, neil@hifa.org www.hifa.org