Original research by Steven Wilson and Charles Wiysonge published in the BMJ Global Health looked at this intriguing question.

They considered the threat posed by anti-vaccination efforts on social media to be critically important with the forthcoming need for worldwide COVID-19 vaccination programmes.

They globally evaluated this effect of social media and online foreign disinformation campaigns on vaccination rates and attitudes towards vaccine safety.

They used a large cross country regression framework to evaluate the effect of social media on vaccine hesitancy globally.

They operationalised social media usage in two dimensions.

  1. The use of it by the public to organise action.
  2. The level of negatively orientated discourse about vaccines on social media. In addition, they measured the level of foreign sourced coordinated disinformation operations on social media in each country.

They measured the outcome of vaccine hesitancy in two ways.

  1. Polls of what proportion of the public in the country feel vaccines are unsafe.
  2. Using annual data of actual vaccination rates from the WHO from 166 countries.

They found that the use of social media to organise offline action was highly predictive of the belief that vaccinations were unsafe.

This belief mounted with more organisation on social media.

In addition, the prevalence of foreign disinformation was highly statistically and substantively significant in predicting a drop in mean vaccination coverage over time.

A one point shift upwards in the five point disinformation scale is associated with a two percentage point drop in mean vaccination coverage year over year.

They also found support for the connection of foreign disinformation with negative social media activity about vaccination.

The substantive effect of foreign disinformation led to an increase in the number of negative vaccine tweets by 15% for the median country.

In conclusion, they found a significant relationship between organisation on social media and public doubts about vaccine safety.

In addition, they found a substantial relationship between foreign disinformation campaigns and declining vaccine coverage.

The London General Practice applauds all researchers in COVID-19 work and understands that when the COVID-19 vaccine is available, it will almost certainly only be available through government bodies such as the National Health Service and there will not be any availability within private practice.

Dr Paul Ettlinger
London General Practice

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