KFF COVID-19 Vaccine Monitor: Media and Misinformation
The KFF COVID-19 Vaccine Monitor is an ongoing research project tracking the public’s attitudes and experiences with COVID-19 vaccinations. Using a combination of surveys and qualitative research, this project tracks the dynamic nature of public opinion as vaccine development and distribution unfold, including vaccine confidence and acceptance, information needs, trusted messengers and messages, as well as the public’s experiences with vaccination.
- Misinformation about health care topics is nothing new, but social media, the polarization of news sources, and the pace of scientific development on COVID-19 have all contributed to an environment that makes it easier than ever for ambiguous information, misinterpretation, and deliberate disinformation to spread.1 We find in the latest Vaccine Monitor that belief in pandemic-related misinformation is widespread, with 78% of adults saying they have heard at least one of eight different false statements about COVID-19 and that they believe it to be true or are unsure if it is true or false. One-third (32%) of all adults believe or are uncertain about at least four false statements. Belief in COVID-19 misinformation is correlated with both vaccination status and partisanship, with unvaccinated adults and Republicans much more likely to believe or be unsure about false statements compared to vaccinated adults and Democrats.
- With the public’s trust in news media declining over many years, we find that no news media source garners the trust of a majority of the public when it comes to COVID-19 information. While nearly half trust information about COVID-19 that they see on network and local television news, trust is lower for other news outlets and diverges in expected ways along partisan lines. Unvaccinated adults are far less likely than vaccinated adults to trust most of the news sources included in the survey for information on COVID-19, with the exception of conservative news sources.
- People’s trusted news sources are correlated with their belief in COVID-19 misinformation. The share who hold at least four misconceptions is small (between 11-16%) among those who say they trust COVID-19 information from network news, local TV news, CNN, MSNBC, and NPR. This share rises to nearly four in ten among those who trust COVID-19 information from One America News (37%) and Fox News (36%), and to nearly half (46%) among those who trust information from Newsmax. One thing this study cannot disentangle is whether this is because people are exposed to misinformation from those news sources, or whether the types of people who choose those news sources are the same ones who are pre-disposed to believe certain types of misinformation for other reasons.
- These findings suggest a challenge for reaching people with accurate information about COVID-19. While that challenge is particularly acute when it comes to reaching those who remain unvaccinated, the partisan divisions in misinformation and trusted news sources also have implications for those who are vaccinated, as we have reported a growing partisan divide in intention to get COVID-19 booster shots, even among the fully vaccinated.
Belief In COVID-19 Misinformation
Numerous studies have documented the prevalence of misinformation and disinformation about COVID-19, often fueled by social media2. The latest KFF COVID-19 Vaccine Monitor sheds light on how common it is for people to hear and believe certain “myths” about the disease and the vaccine, and how these beliefs correlate with individuals’ trusted media sources.
Belief or uncertainty about COVID-19 misinformation is widespread, with nearly eight in ten adults saying they have heard at least one of eight different pieces of misinformation and either believe them to be true or are not sure whether they are true or false. Most commonly, six in ten adults have heard that the government is exaggerating the number of COVID-19 deaths by counting deaths due to other factors as coronavirus deaths and either believe this to be true (38%) or aren’t sure if it’s true or false (22%).3 About four in ten have heard that pregnant women should not get the COVID-19 vaccine and think this is true (17%) or aren’t sure (22%). Among women ages 18-44, 18% believe this to be true and 29% are uncertain.
Among other common myths, one-third believe or are unsure whether deaths due to the COVID-19 vaccine are being intentionally hidden by the government (35%), and about three in ten each believe or are unsure whether COVID-19 vaccines have been shown to cause infertility (31%) or whether Ivermectin is a safe and effective treatment for COVID-19 (28%). In addition, between a fifth and a quarter of the public believe or are unsure whether the vaccines can give you COVID-19 (25%), contain a microchip (24%), or can change your DNA (21%).
Overall, about one in five adults (22%) do not believe any of the eight pieces of information tested in the survey, while nearly half (46%) believe or are unsure about between one and three false statements. One-third of adults (32%) say they have heard at least four of these statements and believe them to be true or are uncertain if they’re true or false. There are notable differences in misinformation belief by vaccination status and partisan identity and smaller differences by community type and education level.
Among adults who have not gotten a COVID-19 vaccine, nearly two-thirds (64%) believe or are uncertain about four or more false statements about the virus. Among vaccinated adults, most believe or are unsure about at least one false statement, but just 19% say this about four or more statements. Unvaccinated adults are at least 20 percentage points more likely than vaccinated adults to lack knowledge about each piece of misinformation tested, with the largest gap on the statement that “Deaths due to the COVID-19 vaccine are being intentionally hidden by the government” (61% of unvaccinated adults believe or are unsure if this is true compared to 25% of vaccinated adults).
Nearly half (46%) of Republicans compared to just 14% of Democrats believe or are unsure about four or more misstatements about COVID-19. Strikingly, 84% of Republicans believe or are unsure whether the government is exaggerating the number of COVID-19 deaths by including deaths due to other causes, compared to just one third of Democrats. In addition, there are large gaps between Republicans and Democrats in the shares who believe or are unsure whether pregnant women should not get the vaccine (52% vs. 28%), whether the vaccines have been shown to cause infertility (43% vs. 15%), and whether Ivermectin is a safe and effective treatment for COVID-19 (44% vs. 10%).
In addition to these differences by partisanship and vaccination status, believing or having doubts about four or more pieces of COVID-19 misinformation is also more prevalent among rural residents compared to those living in urban and suburban areas, among those without a college degree compared to college graduates, and among those ages 18-49 compared to those ages 50 and over.
Trusted News Media Sources For COVID-19 Information
Previous Vaccine Monitor reports have shown that television news and social media are both prominent sources where people get information about COVID-19, while among non-media sources of information, health care providers are the most trusted. In this latest survey, we sought to understand how much people trust specific news sources when it comes to COVID-19 information.
Overall, there is no news source that garners trust from a majority of the public on the topic of COVID-19. At the top of the list, nearly half say they have “a great deal” or “a fair amount” of trust in COVID-19 information that they see or hear on their local TV news station (47%) and on network news like ABC, NBC, and CBS (45%). About a third put a similar level of trust in information they see on CNN (36%), MSNBC (33%), and NPR (32%) while three in ten say the same about Fox News (29%). A smaller share put at least a fair amount of trust in COVID-19 information from One America News and Newsmax (13% each).
Overall, far fewer people say they trust information about COVID-19 that they see on social media compared to traditional news platforms (13% say they trust information they see on YouTube, 9% on Facebook, 6% each on Twitter and TikTok, and 5% on Instagram). The group that is influenced by information they see on these platforms may be larger than the share that says they trust information they see there, as we previously found in January that 31% of adults got information about COVID-19 vaccines from social media over a two-week period, nearly as large as the share who got information from cable, network, and local TV news.
As has been well documented (in particular by the Pew Research Center), the U.S. media environment has become increasingly polarized in recent years, with Democrats and Republicans placing trust in completely different news sources. This is true when it comes to trust in COVID-19 information as well. Majorities of Democrats say they trust information about COVID-19 from network news (72%), local TV news (66%), CNN (65%), MSNBC (56%), and NPR (51%), while none of these sources is trusted by a majority of independents or Republicans. Republicans’ most trusted sources of COVID-19 information is Fox News (49%) followed by smaller shares who trust local TV news (34%), network news (25%), and Newsmax (22%).
Trusted news sources for COVID-19 information differ by vaccination status in addition to partisanship. Among mainstream news sources, vaccinated adults are at least twice as likely as unvaccinated adults to say they trust COVID-19 information from their local TV news station, network news, CNN, MSNBC, and NPR. Similar shares of vaccinated and unvaccinated adults say they trust COVID-19 information they see on Fox News (29% and 30%, respectively). The one news source that is trusted by a larger share of unvaccinated adults compared to vaccinated adults is Newsmax (17% vs. 11%), though the shares who trust Newsmax are relatively small for both groups.
Relationship Between Trusted News Sources and Belief In COVID-19 Misinformation
People’s trusted news sources are correlated with their belief in COVID-19 misinformation. Among those who say they trust COVID-19 information from CNN, MSNBC, network news, NPR, and local TV news, between three in ten and four in ten do not believe any of the eight pieces of misinformation tested in the survey, while small shares (between 11%-16%) believe or are unsure about at least four falsehoods.
Belief in misinformation is higher among those who say they trust COVID-19 information from conservative news sources, with nearly four in ten of those who trust Fox News (36%) and One America News (37%) and nearly half (46%) of those who trust Newsmax for such information saying they have heard at least four of the falsehoods tested in the survey and either believe them to be true or are unsure if they’re true or false. One thing this study cannot disentangle is whether this is because people are exposed to misinformation from those news sources, or whether the types of people who choose those news sources are the same ones who are pre-disposed to believe certain types of misinformation for other reasons.