How to Fight COVID-19 Vaccination Misinformation
Much of the misinformation surrounding the COVID-19 vaccine is quite honestly, far-fetched. But it would be ill-advised to assume that because some vaccine skeptics are advertising skewed versions of reality, all are. In fact, the majority of people unsure about whether to receive the COVID-19 vaccine have compelling reasons.
Take, for example, the issue of timing. In March, medical experts stressed that developing vaccines tend to take decades or longer and that even an 18-month timeline for COVID-19's would be lightning fast. As of this writing, just ten months later, there are multiple vaccines in distribution. It's easy to construe how this could lead to a fair amount of skepticism.
The issue isn't that some people are skeptical about the vaccine. It's that a prohibitively large number of people are all skeptical at once. To reach herd immunity against Sars-CoV-2, somewhere vaguely in the ballpark of 70% of people worldwide will need to be vaccinated. Put that figure against a recent Pew Research study, which found that only half (51%) of Americans say they'll take a COVID-19 vaccine. One quarter (27%) of Americans say they're not just on the fence--they definitely won't take it.
This anxiety is not confined to the general public. A recent poll by Medscape found nearly identical survey responses (53%) among nurses, with 30% of American physicians unsure of or against the idea of getting vaccinated.
Clearly, vaccine skepticism is neither rare nor localized.
On December 8th, a U.K.woman became the first person worldwide to receive a tested, government-approved COVID-19 vaccine. Then, two things happened. First, a conspiracy theory spread that the woman was actually a crisis actor for CNN. At the same time, prominent news and social media organizations announced initiatives to combat fake news surrounding the COVID-19 vaccine.
The Trusted News Initiative (TNI) was initially founded in 2019 to combat fake news surrounding elections. Today, it's being weaponized against pandemic misinformation. The organization's members include Google, Twitter, Facebook, Reuters, and the BBC. Their stated goal is to prevent "disinformation which poses an immediate threat to life so content can be reviewed promptly by platforms, whilst publishers ensure they don't unwittingly republish dangerous falsehoods."
It will be an uphill battle for mainstream institutions to fight fake news but what TNI has to its advantage is its combination of data and social media--the message and the medium. Its success will hinge on not just what people are reading (certified news), but which and how many of them are reading it (as arranged for by the proprietary algorithms).
Google has employed this same logic in developing its own multi-front plan. As detailed in a blog post from Google's Chief Health Officer Dr. Karen DeSalvo, the company has already distributed hundreds of millions of dollars in grants to governments and organizations trying to spread the good word about COVID-19 prevention. They've been filming "information panels" featuring medical experts, which have already been viewed over 400 billion times worldwide due, in no small part, to being featured on YouTube's homepage. And they've even modified their search engine so that only the best, verified results pop up when people search for information about COVID-19 vaccines.
A Vaccine Against Fake News
Curing COVID-19's information problem is a challenge. In a virtual briefing to the UN Correspondents Association, Francesco Rocca, president of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, labeled the proliferation of fake news regarding the COVID-19 vaccine a second pandemic. "To beat COVID-19, we also need to defeat the parallel pandemic of mistrust that has consistently hindered our collective response to this disease, and that could undermine our shared ability to vaccinate against it," Roca said, adding: "This is not just an issue of mistrust. It is an issue of information. Surprising as it may seem, there are still communities around the world that are not aware of the pandemic."
But we can begin to ease these concerns and change minds by spreading more reliable information and create delivery methods that are as intuitive and as accessible as social media platforms.
One in four millennials say they use conversational AI on a daily basis, 24% of Americans aged 18+ own a smart speaker, and 80% of consumers who have engaged with conversational AI report a positive customer experience. What if obtaining accurate information is as simple as chatting with your smartphone?
Take VAXA: a conversational AI COVID-19 access solution from Hyro designed explicitly for healthcare systems to offload the expected burden on their live agents due to a projected 250-500% call center volume increase from concerned patients.
With 24/7 data scraping from verified sources (CDC, WHO, Pfizer, state and health organizations' guideline), VAXA—which can be deployed as a website-virtual assistant, a call center voice agent, or both—provides patients with stringently vetted and up-to-date information to answer a vast array of constantly updated FAQs regarding the COVID-19 vaccine.
As was the case with combatting the “first” pandemic (the actual spread of the virus), technology will play a dramatic role in the fight against the second pandemic Francesco Rocca has warned us about. The success or failure of vaccination roll-outs across the US will be determined by the level of cooperation between healthcare systems and their patients. Having a vaccine with a 95% efficacy rate is a critical first step, but having a well-informed public is the key to completing one of the greatest missions in modern history.