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COVID-19 is the first major pandemic in the social media era — offering experts a rare opening to study the relationship between online misinformation and human behavior on a large scale.

Why it matters: As misinformation about COVID-19 vaccines runs rampant, researchers are trying to measure how much memes and messages with false information can alter someone’s decision to get vaccinated.

What’s happening: Daily COVID-19 vaccinations in the U.S. have slowed over the past month, and those Americans remaining are less enthusiastic about being vaccinated, suggesting the country is hitting a vaccine wall.

The big picture: One word dominates the reasons people give for being hesitant or resistant to getting a COVID-19 vaccine: trust, says David Lazer, a professor of political science and computer and information science at Northeastern University who, with his collaborators, has conducted dozens of surveys over the past year to study people’s attitudes and behaviors during the pandemic.

  • A lack of trust in government, companies or institutions may be why some people accept misinformation and even actively seek it, and why they are skeptical of getting vaccinated, he says.

What to watch … the roughly 30 million Americans who aren’t saying they won’t get a vaccine or are waiting but say they’ll do it when they can.

  • Some people who refuse the COVID-19 vaccines are heavily entrenched in a well-funded, well-organized anti-vaccine movement, but others who are considered hesitant are trying to make an informed decision while encountering a wave of disinformation, says Samuel Scarpino, a business professor of network science at Northeastern University College of Science.


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