Fighting misinformation with facts

The role of misinformation in vaccine hesitancy and how to combat it

The age of misinformation

It’s no surprise that in a world where people can say, pretty much, anything they want on social media, that misinformation is rife. We’ve seen the effects of this in politics in recent years but what does it mean for the roll out of a vaccine?

The trouble with misinformation is that it sticks more than the truth.[1] Even when corrected, people can become more familiar with the misinformation, and then confuse this with the truth. For example, Andrew Wakefield and his research on the Measles, Mumps and Rubella (MMR) vaccine. The stickiness of misinformation can, and often will, push someone from accepting, maybe even supporting a vaccine, to becoming more hesitant towards them.

Figure 1 – Vaccine hesitancy scale. Unicef Vaccine Misinformation Field Guide 2020.

The knee-jerk reaction for most when presented with misinformation is to scoff and exclaim that the person saying it is wrong (or worse). This only adds fuel to the fire. Instead, vaccine sceptics should be reasoned with on their terms. Whilst you may believe their concerns are false and unfounded, they are probably genuine to them. Understanding these concerns, and responding with clear, concise, and accurate information is fundamental to combatting misinformation. A great example of this is th CovidFAQ website.

Those who are able to separate fact from fiction, i.e., those with a good level of health literacy, are less likely to succumb to the persuasiveness of misinformation online. They are also more likely to seek and share accurate information. It is important to say at this point, that it is unreasonable to expect an entire population to have a good grasp on health literacy.

Communications must be fit for purpose

The UK Government’s Public Health Campaigns often fall into the “one size fits all” category:

Catch it. Bin it. Kill it.

Hands. Face. Space.

This approach does not serve to address the variety of views, opinions and beliefs that exist in society. It is paramount that we understand the concerns of different socio-economic groups and ethnicities. We must then tailor communications to have the biggest impact on the community it’s targeting.

For example, there are an estimated 9 million people in the UK who are unable to use the internet independently[2] – trying to reach these people via digital channels does not make sense, but that doesn’t mean they should be forgotten.

The need for an audience-specific vaccine communications approach was highlighted during a recent Tortoise ThinkIn, where Aurora CEO Claire Eldridge spoke with other experts about how best to tell the vaccine story.

But, how?                                                                                          

This answer is logical. The best way to maximise the uptake of the vaccine (all) communications is to listen to the audience we’re trying to target. Speak with them to understand their challenges and concerns. Establish trust with these communities.

We can then design materials to specifically address these challenges.

By doing this, we can also develop vaccine advocates in communities. These are people who will support the work we are doing. These role models will help reassure remaining differences in communities and address any concerns or pieces of misinformation that arise.

That all sounds a bit simple…

I am by no means saying that this is an easy job. There are a million and one different variables that must be considered.

However, without proper thought, strategy and execution, we risk jeopardising the hard-work that has got us to the point where we actually have a Covid-19 vaccine. And unfortunately, it will be the under-represented minority communities who will miss out if we get it wrong.

For example, recent data shows that up to 72% of black people in the UK would not take the vaccine[3], compared to 79% of white people who said they would.[4] This is not solely contributed to health literacy or misinformation, there are historical factors to be considered. Nevertheless, it is vital to understand the concerns and challenges of these communities in order for communications to have the desired impact.

Listening, learning, and applying insights from patients is something that we at Aurora embed into every project we take on.

If you want to hear more about how Aurora can help you reach your audience, in the right way, get in touch with the Patient Involvement team:


[1] Unicef 2020 | Vaccine Misinformation Managemement Field Guide. Available at: Last accessed January 2021

[2] Lloyds Bank 2020 | UK Customer Digital Index. Available at: Last accessed January 2021

[3] E. Robertson, K. S. Reeve, C. Niedzwiedz et al., | Predictors of COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy in the UK Household Longitudinal Study 2021. Available at: Last accessed January 2021.

[4] Royal Society for Public Health 2020 | Public attitudes to a Covid-19 vaccine, and their variations across ethnic and socioeconomic groups. Available at: Last accessed January 2021

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