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Our Take: Public health officials face steep challenge in fight against COVID-19 misinformation, KFF survey indicates

Nov 15, 2021

Nearly 8 in 10 adults in the U.S. (78%) say they have heard at least one of eight false statements about COVID-19 included in a recent survey by public opinion researchers at the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) and either believe the statement is true or are unsure whether it is true.

The survey revealed that almost a third of the respondents (32%) believed or were uncertain about at least half of the following eight false statements:
  • The government is exaggerating the number of COVID-19 deaths (38% believed this was true and 22% were unsure).
  • Pregnant women should not get the COVID-19 vaccine (17% believed, 22% unsure).
  • Deaths due to the COVID-19 vaccine are being intentionally hidden by the government (18% believed, 17% unsure).
  • The COVID-19 vaccines have been shown to cause infertility (8% believed, 23% unsure).
  • Ivermectin is a safe and effective treatment for COVID-19 (14% believed, 14% unsure).
  • You can get COVID-19 from the vaccine (14% believed, 10% unsure).
  • The COVID-19 vaccines contain a microchip (7% believed, 17% unsure).
  • The COVID-19 vaccines can change your DNA (8% believed, 13% unsure).

Only about one in five of those surveyed (22%) said they did not believe any of these statements.

Several factors correlated with the likelihood of believing COVID-19 misinformation, including vaccination status, political leaning, residential community type, and education level.

For example, almost two-thirds of the unvaccinated respondents (64%) believed or were unsure about four or more of the false statements (vs. 19% of the vaccinated respondents).

Among the respondents who identified as Republicans, almost half (46%) said they believed or were unsure about four or more of the false statements (vs. 14% of self-identified Democrats).

Believing at least half of the statements or having doubts about whether they were false was more prevalent among respondents living in rural areas, those not having a college degree, and those ages 18 to 59 as compared with respondents living in suburban or urban areas, those with a college degree, and those age 50 or older.

The researchers also asked the survey respondents about their most trusted media sources for COVID-19 information.

Overall, they trusted local TV news stations more than any other source, with 13% saying they trusted them a great deal and 33% saying they trusted their local TV station a fair amount. Network news sources were a close second, followed in descending order by CNN, MSNBC, NPR, Fox News, One America News, and Newsmax.

Trust in media sources varied considerably between those who identified as Republicans and those who identified as Democrats. Among Republicans, 49% said they trusted Fox News a great deal or a fair amount with regard to information about COVID-19 (vs. 18% of Democrats who said they trusted Fox News). Network news was the most trusted media source for COVID-19 information among Democrats, with 72% saying they trusted this source a great deal or a fair amount (vs. 25% of Republicans who said they trusted network news).

In general, the respondents placed very little trust in social media sources such as Facebook.

Among those who were not vaccinated, Fox News was the most trusted media source for COVID-19 information, but only 30% said they trusted Fox News at least a fair amount. This highlights how little trust there is among unvaccinated adults in terms of news sources for information about COVID-19.

While the researchers noted that belief in misinformation was higher among the respondents who said they trusted COVID-19 information from conservative news sources such as Fox News and One America News, they pointed out that they could not determine whether this finding was because people are exposed to misinformation from these news sources or because the types of people who get their news from such sources are predisposed to believe certain kinds of misinformation for other reasons.

The survey is part of the KFF COVID-19 Vaccine Monitor, an ongoing research project that is tracking attitudes and experiences with COVID-19 vaccinations among the general public. It was conducted by phone Oct. 14-24 among a nationally representative random sample of 1,519 U.S. adults. Of that total, 1,090 said they had received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, and 406 said they had not been vaccinated.

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