Shedding new light on the problem of vaccine resistance, a survey released Tuesday by a consortium that includes Northeastern University and Harvard University found that 20 percent of Americans believed at least one of four false claims about the coronavirus vaccine.
The researchers who conducted the survey also said that people who believed the false statements or expressed uncertainty about them were much less likely to get their shots.
Getting the highly effective vaccines is a crucial goal at a time that the supercontagious Delta variant is sweeping across the country, officials and experts say. But even as cases, hospitalizations, and deaths are rising, efforts to get some people vaccinated have run up against stubborn resistance.
The four debunked claims that researchers asked a national sample of people about were: the COVID-19 vaccines will alter people’s DNA; the COVID-19 vaccines contain microchips that can track people; the COVID-19 vaccines contain the lung tissue of aborted fetuses; and the COVID-19 vaccines can cause infertility, making it more difficult to get pregnant.
The good news: Researchers said that 40 percent of people surveyed did not believe any of the four claims. The survey found that 85 percent of the people in that group were vaccinated and 5 percent were vaccine-resistant.
On the other hand, among the 20 percent of people who thought at least one false claim was true, 44 percent were vaccinated and 39 percent were vaccine-resistant.
“Does believing vaccine misinformation lead to lower vaccination rates? Our data suggest that the two are at least connected,” the survey report said.
Researchers found a “very robust relationship . . . between believing things that are untrue about the vaccine and vaccine resistance,” said Matthew Baum, one of the authors of the study.
He said it’s not clear, however, whether vaccine misinformation reinforces anti-vaccination beliefs people already have or actually engenders the beliefs. “I think it’s almost certainly a mix of both,” he said.
Researchers also offered survey respondents the option of saying they were “not sure” about the false statements. Another 40 percent of people did not mark any of the statements as true but did say they were unsure about at least one of them.
Among this group, 56 percent were vaccinated and 25 percent were vaccine-resistant.
“Uncertainty about misinformation is also linked to lower vaccination rates and higher vaccine resistance,” the report said.
(The percentage of people unsure about at least one of the false statements rises to 51 percent when including people who marked some false statements as true and, at the same time, said they were unsure about others.)
The researchers combed through results from a national survey conducted June 9 to July 7.
The COVID-19 Consortium for Understanding the Public’s Policy Preferences Across States also includes Rutgers University and Northwestern University. The survey was the latest in a series conducted by the consortium since April 2020 to probe attitudes and behaviors regarding the coronavirus pandemic in the United States.
Martin Finucane can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.