Flu vaccine myths and misinformation: Don’t spread it in the first place

by | Mar 12, 2019 | Blog, What We're Reading

The spread of flu vaccine misinformation is changing the way we share information.

Countering misinformation about the flu vaccine is harder than it seems
The Conversation
Matthew Motta, Dominic Stecula, Kathryn Haglin
Dec. 6, 2018

In the 2016-2017 flu season, 56.7 percent of American adults did not receive the flu vaccine, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Research shows false perceptions is partially to blame for low vaccination rates. And misinformation about the flu vaccine may be deadly; 80,000 Americans died from the flu in the most recent flu cycle.

Postdoctoral fellows at the Annenberg Public Policy Center reviewed three ways journalists can communicate factual information about flu vaccines.

  1. Present only the facts
  2. Debunk the myths
  3. Appeal to group behavior

No one way appears to be a surefire, successful tactic. The researchers note, “Correcting misinformation about the flu vaccines is hard, and the academic literature provides mixed signals about approaches to tackling this problem.”

However, the science communication researchers suggest journalists focus on simply not spreading misinformation in the first place. That means don’t address rumors or try to convince people they cannot become ill from the vaccine. Instead, focus on the truth: that the flu vaccine does not contain a live vaccine. Why not debunk the myths? “Repeating the myth might increase the odds of people believe in it. And correcting misinformation is very difficult task, primarily because misinformation tends to be ‘sticky,’” they write.