The impact of media on public opinion and trust in vaccines

June 14, 2021
The impact of media on public opinion and trust in vaccines

Good communication has become essential during this global pandemic – in particular, how leaders/officials, governments, and subject matter experts of various countries and regions behave, how they communicate, and how the media reports on it all have significant impacts and consequences on the public.

The mainstream media has been reporting on COVID-19 and its vaccines religiously since the early days of the nightmare pandemic. However, since the first vaccine was approved for emergency use in December 2020 anti-vax (anti-vaccination) sentiment has grown across social media networks, instead of the opposite. It then falls on the media and political leaders to change the negative public perception and reduce vaccine hesitancy.

Overall public willingness to have a COVID-19 vaccine varies across the US, UK, Europe, Asia and the Middle East. In Europe, research indicates that trust in the AstraZeneca (AZ) vaccine decreased significantly after reports from media and statements from European political leaders and public health officials that the vaccine may not be as effective in the over-65s. Eventually, public health authorities concluded that the side effects were extremely rare, and the benefits of vaccination far outweighed the risks.

The data also presents a clear correlation between how vaccine hesitancy depends on positive media content, sometimes featuring political leaders: a high percentage of positive trust attributes correlated to positive public perception and vaccine acceptance, especially in Asia. This was not the case in the European markets covered in the study and particularly negative when French and German data are isolated.

The regional differences were equally evident when it came to quoting vaccine manufacturers/spokespeople versus political leaders in coverage. The US journalists, for instance, were most likely to turn to the pharmaceutical companies for comment, while political leaders were the first choice in Asia.

It is then imperative to build a perception of trust, which can be portrayed in news coverage by the relevant parties through six key attributes: competence; ethical behaviour; openness and transparency; innovation; clarity of messaging; and leadership. Of the vaccines currently available, Pfizer received the highest number of positive trust attributes overall, due its high volume of coverage, but Moderna was seen to be the most trusted, receiving the highest proportion of positive trust attributes.

“Public trust in Government vaccination programmes is a case study […] driven not just by drug supply and administrative capability, but by confidence. And confidence is in turn driven by the clarity, certainty – or lack of all three – from governments,” said Francis Ingham, Chief Executive of the International Communications Consultancy Organzation (ICCO), in a report by Carma Asia. The media intelligence service provider has recently investigated the trust different countries and regions have towards vaccination and vaccine hesitancy, compiled into a special report – it is evident which influence matters when push comes to shove.

Read: Free COVID-19 vaccines planned for all Japanese; could prompt economic recovery by 2022

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