Persistent Vaccine Myths

A shorter version of this column has been published by Axios.

Big myths about COVID vaccines are showing real staying power among Americans who are not vaccinated. They are not the only factor fueling vaccine hesitancy, but they are a continuing problem the media, health leaders and trusted messengers ought to be able to chip away at to get more people vaccinated.

With social media rife with misinformation, large shares of unvaccinated Americans have latched on to misbeliefs about the vaccines.

One big myth with legs is that the vaccines themselves cause COVID. 36% of unvaccinated adults either believe this or are not sure, and 41% of unvaccinated Blacks do.

Another myth is that the vaccines cause infertility. 29% of unvaccinated adults believe that or don’t know, as do 31% of Republicans. 34% of Republicans also say the vaccines contain fetal cells or are not sure if they do.

About the same shares of unvaccinated adults believe the vaccines change your DNA and that you should not get vaccinated if you have had COVID.

All told 67% of unvaccinated adults cling to one of the major myths about vaccines we asked about in our KFF Vaccine Monitor.

A significant misconception among unvaccinated Latinos is that getting vaccinated will cost them money, with 52% believing it will. Practical obstacles to vaccination such as this or worries that they will not be able to get time off from work to get their shots or deal with side effects weigh heavily on unvaccinated Latinos, many of whom want to get vaccinated.

Unvaccinated adults don’t all get their information from social media. Their top sources of information on vaccines are cable tv, network and local tv news, and friends and family. But their misconceptions could still mostly be coming from social media, which is a top information source on vaccines for 18-29 year olds.

Leaders from President Biden on down can keep hammering away at the facts. So can the media. That should help dispel myths even as trust in government and media has declined. The persistence of vaccine myths also underscore the need to do a better job policing misinformation about vaccines on social media that affect life and death decisions.

One big opportunity jumps out. Doctors, nurses, community health workers and pharmacists are both important sources of information for unvaccinated Americans and trusted messengers. They have a special role to play in their communities clearing up the myths about vaccines that remain among the most hesitant groups.

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