Millions embrace COVID-19 misinformation, which is linked to vaccine hesitancy

In the fourth survey conducted with a nationally representative sample of more than 1,600 U.S. adults, in November 2021 the Annenberg Public Policy Center continued its tracking of misbeliefs and conspiracy theories that have persisted and, in rare cases, grown since the inception of the pandemic. The policy center has been conducting this panel study since April 2021, and began tracking beliefs about the novel coronavirus and vaccination even earlier, with cross-sectional surveys beginning in March 2020.

Graph of survey responses to the question: In general, how confident, if at all, are you that the following are providing the public with trustworthy information about means of preventing and treating COVID-19.
Image: APPC Ask Survey

“Key consequential deceptions continue to predict hesitancy for oneself and one’s children and a reluctance to get a booster,” says Kathleen Hall Jamieson, director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center (APPC). “Even though more people reject these conspiracies and misbeliefs than accept them, those that have become deeply rooted need to be repeatedly fact-checked, highlighted, and countered by media organizations and health care providers.”

Although confidence in him remains high, the survey also found a softening of support for Anthony Fauci, who directs the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID). The face of the U.S. pandemic response, Fauci has weathered an extended onslaught of unjustified attacks in conservative and ultraconservative media. While his overall support is unchanged, with two-thirds of Americans confident Fauci is providing trustworthy information on treating and preventing COVID-19, the group of those who support him most strongly has diminished while the ranks of those with no confidence have grown.

The survey also examines beliefs in other types of information and misinformation, some of which are consistent with findings in a recent Kaiser Family Foundation survey. Ken Winneg, APPC’s managing director of survey research, ran a series of regressions to measure the association between beliefs in misinformation and conspiracy theories and the likelihood of vaccination. In the presence of statistical controls, he found a significant association between individuals’ belief in misinformation and conspiracy theories and vaccine hesitancy for themselves and their children, and reduced likelihood that the individuals would report getting a booster, if they are already vaccinated.

Read more at the Annenberg Public Policy Center.