Friday, December 11, 2020

'The Perfect Storm': How Vaccine Misinformation Spread To The Mainstream

A nurse prepares to administer a COVID-19 vaccine at Croydon University Hospital in London. Pool/Getty Images 

Shannon Bond
NPR News

Kolina Koltai first heard about the coronavirus back in January, but not from newspapers or TV. Instead, she read about it in anti-vaccination groups on Facebook.

"They were posting stories from China like, 'Hey, here's this mysterious illness,' or 'Here's this something that seems to be spreading,'" she said.

While few others in the U.S. were talking about the virus back then, people opposed to vaccination were paying attention, Koltai said, because they have long worried that a new disease would trigger the creation of a vaccine that, in their view, could be "forced onto everyone."

Koltai is well versed in these kinds of conspiracy theories about vaccines. A researcher at the University of Washington's Center for an Informed Public, she has studied the growing anti-vaccination movement on Facebook since 2015.

Until recently, such claims circulated mostly in groups dedicated to vaccine scrutiny, alternative health and parenting. But the pandemic has created what she called "the perfect storm" for vaccine misinformation to hit the mainstream.

"There's so much we don't know, so much uncertainty and uncertainty makes us all so prone to misinformation to try to quell that feeling," she said.

Falsehoods have multiplied and can be found anywhere from neighborhood chats to groups for pet owners, because so many people have questions about the COVID-19 vaccines. The hoaxes also have been propelled by groups opposed to lockdowns and mask wearing, and by proponents of Qanon, a fact-defying, pro-Trump conspiracy theory.  Read more >>