Misinformation is a widespread threat to vaccination. There are many misleading ideas being spread over social media and by word of mouth. One study found that a third of Americans surveyed believed at least one conspiracy about Covid-19. Those who do are nearly four times less interested in getting vaccinated.
Some people are more susceptible than others. Most misinformation is spread through family and friends. But everyone is at risk no matter their level of understanding. False information can affect people’s behavior at an emotional level even if they do not fully believe it.
KEEP IN MIND
The longer people sit with hesitation and skepticism, the more likely they are to become convinced and extreme in their avoidance of vaccination.
Avoid repeating misinformation.
Try not to repeat misinformation – even if you explain why it’s not true right after, this can still make it stick in people’s heads. This is especially true for highly emotional ideas. Try saying things like ‘you may hear concerns about safety’ rather than ‘some people claim the vaccine will give you coronavirus’.
Acknowledge that misinformation is widespread and counter it quickly, respectfully and concretely.
Tools and Materials
The Misinformation Cheat Sheet
Download this guide as a reference to help you remember responses to misinformation you may hear.
Allow room to save face
Having a belief challenged can feel embarrassing and threatening. Acknowledge why someone may have come to their belief. Give them space to accept new evidence without shame. Use non-confrontational tones and body language such as leaning in to listen and matching postures. This can avoid triggering defensiveness and digging in.
Be kind, be respectful.
Try to put yourself in the shoes of those who believe the misinformation. People respond better to empathy than attempts to shame, browbeat or control them.
“Pre-bunk” false claims before they’re encountered.
You might discredit bad sources based on their motives or methods of communication. Or you might give a simple example of how to disprove bad information.
Harness trusted messengers.
Think about whom your employees trust. This may be a public health institution (like the CDC), or community leaders and senior peers. Trusted sources change depending on attitudes toward the government and authorities. Medical professionals may be especially trusted when it comes to health information. If possible, recruit these trusted sources to help deliver your message.
Prepare people to hear misleading information.
Talk about how people may encounter misinformation when discussing vaccination policy and facts. People who are cued to be on the lookout are more likely to check their facts. Remember not to repeat specific misinformation. You can say things like “people may try to scare you” or “there are a lot of made-up stories about the vaccine going around.”
Use the “truth sandwich.”
First, start by stating the truth. The first frame gets the advantage. Second, describe the lie, but don’t repeat misinformation. Third, return to the truth. Always repeat truths more than lies.
Conspiracy theories can provide a sense of safety and control for those who are anxious, powerless and frightened. The emotional content of people's beliefs may be more helpful than the facts when trying to understand their thinking. Engaging with a person who is feeling upset may cause them to dig in further. Try to keep things calm and friendly. Refer people to other sources to avoid escalating an interaction where necessary. Consider encouraging vaccinated employees to discuss their experiences with others. You can also give them sources to share with friends who would rather not approach management.