Covid 19 coronavirus: Government social media moderators set to pounce on vaccine misinformation

An army of Government social media moderators are set to pounce on vaccine misinformation spread online and quickly counter it with facts.

And the vaccination campaign won’t aim to convert the “hardcore” 10 per cent of Kiwis likely to outright refuse to get jabbed, and will instead focus on convincing the “vaccine hesitant”.

According to a survey commissioned by Auckland University, 69 per cent of Kiwis are willing to get a “well-tested and approved” Covid-19 vaccine.

Professor Chris Bullen, deputy head at the university’s School of Population Health, said the research found about 10 per cent of the population would say “absolutely not” to the vaccine and may be “very hard to persuade”.

“I don’t think that 10 per cent should be seen as a lost cause, but we do have sort of low-hanging fruit in the 15 to 20 per cent that will be much easier to reach out to.

“But we shouldn’t completely toss our hands up and give up on the hardcore group because within that I think there are still some opportunities.”

The campaign, set to begin shortly after the first vaccine is administered on Saturday, can’t be a “one-size fits all” because of the differences among the “vaccine hesitant”.

Those who will need more convincing were found to be women, Māori and Pasifika, in a lower household income and between 35 to 44 years old.

Other findings of the representative surveys of almost 1500 Kiwis conducted in September and December were:

• 18 per cent (about 652,600 adults) were unlikely to have a follow-up dose if required.

• Māori were marginally more likely to get vaccinated if they could talk to someone they trust about it.

• 21 per cent would not get a vaccine if they saw a credible-looking social media post or video which alarmed them or opposed the vaccine.

• Uptake is likely to be highest in those aged over 65.

Bullen theorised women needed more convincing because were often the household decision-maker and took on more responsibility for the health of their families.

The representative survey of almost 1500 Kiwis found the biggest contributor to hesitancy was safety so the campaign will directly address any concerns and provide assurance from trusted people and organisations, like Dr Ashley Bloomfield and the Ministry of Health.

Social media moderators will also be charged with quickly countering misinformation online by replying with facts and information from trusted sources.

Director of Pacific Health Gerardine Clifford-Lidstone said they’d been tracking social media for some time and found there was already a high level of scepticism within Pacific communities.

“Countering these issues is not something that the ministry can do by themselves and so from the entire outset of the Covid campaign we’ve linked really closely with our Pacific health leaders, clinicians, academic experts, Pacific providers and community leaders to try and mobilise and to touch those trusted sources of information.”

Clifford-Lidstone said there was usually one person in a Pasifika family group which the others trust so it was key to target those people and assure them the vaccine was safe.

On Wednesday evening Pacific Peoples Minister Aupito William Sio will brief 350 Pasifika church leaders and the hope is to eventually set up mobile vaccination clinics at churches.

Deputy director-general of Māori Health, John Whaanga, said the health inequities experiences by those communities was exactly why they were going “above and beyond” to tailor the campaign.

“A one size fits all mainstream approach to these things won’t work with some of our communities.”

Whaanga said they’d learnt a lot from the flu vaccination programme last year which had a social media campaign which saw an increase in uptake among Māori.

“Vaccines are really important for our people. Vaccines are really important for us addressing what we know will be a disproportionate impact if Covid gets into our communities.”

Chief Allied Health Professions Officer Martin Chadwick said it was important for anyone who’d read something online or heard it third-hand which worried them to look it up on a trusted and official source.

“We don’t want people to spread misinformation, because it can be really harmful to people’s health, particularly those that are vulnerable.”

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