Misinformation about vaccines has become a significant issue for health officials, whose credibility also has been questioned amid conflicting guidance about face masks, herd immunity and family
gatherings. The news media can add to the confusion with cautionary stories about vaccines that end up being shared on social media.
ABC News, The Washington Post, Reuters and
the Guardian were among the news organizations that generated the most engagement in the third quarter with stories about vaccine side effects, according to social-media analysis firm NewsWhip.
Among the more alarming headlines in the top 10 list were: “Boys more at risk from
Pfizer jab side-effect than Covid, suggests study” by the Guardian; “13-year-old dies in sleep after receiving Pfizer COVID vaccine; CDC investigating” by Newsweek;
and “3rd person dies in Japan after receiving contaminated Moderna vaccine” by ABC News.
The stories may be accurate and fact-checked, but their higher levels of
engagement suggest heightened anxiety about the vaccines among readers. It’s possible the stories are being shared on social media among anti-vaxxers to reinforce their agenda. Politically
divisive content tends to see higher engagement on platforms like Facebook and Twitter.
“These articles, while reporting the known scientific facts at the time of
writing, often have not reached a firm conclusion, which allows anyone sharing to impose their own conclusion on the available facts,” NewsWhip warns.
Within the broader
context of social-media usage, the stories aren’t widely distributed. The top-ranked article with the headline “WHO warns against people mixing and matching COVID vaccines” by
Reuters generated about 150,000 engagements. The other stories in the top 10 list saw much less activity.
The sharing of these articles is still concerning, considering the
pool of unvaccinated people is smaller, but still at higher risk of being hospitalized with COVID-19. Almost 70% of U.S. residents ages 18 and up are fully vaccinated
, and the rate is higher among more vulnerable elderly people.
these stories are not huge in terms of raw numbers, in an ever-decreasing pool of unvaccinated individuals, even a few thousand people being influenced by this type of content can make a world of
difference,” NewsWhip said.