Beyond the Curve: Dr. Peter Lurie's COVID-19 blog

Hot on the heels of the COVID-19 plague itself came the related plague of misinformation. Indeed, to the extent that misinformation has led some to shun proven COVID-19 prevention measures like social distancing, masking, and vaccination, the two plagues have been in a kind of mutually reinforcing tango since the pandemic’s earliest days.

In this blog, we’ve written about the stars of COVID-19 misinformation – hydroxychloroquine, bleach, ivermectin, colloidal silver – but we wanted to establish more formally how common these sorts of misinformation really are. Much has been written about misinformation on Facebook and its ilk, but rather less attention has been paid to traditional news sources, some of which achieve second lives when reposted on social media.

To do that, I joined forces with researchers at the science communications and advocacy group Alliance For Science at the Boyce Thompson Institute, the advocacy group Vaccinate Your Family, and the media monitoring company Cision to describe the amount and types of COVID-19 vaccine misinformation in traditional written media, using a database with 1.3 million COVID-19 vaccine articles published between July 2020 and June 2021 in the 100 largest traditional media sources.

As a percentage of all articles on COVID-19 vaccines, articles promoting misinformation were relatively rare: 0.1% of articles. Still, that’s over 1,000 articles, some of which reached over 400 million people worldwide.

The leading themes were related to the vaccines themselves: articles describing the safety of the vaccines or how they were developed. But there was some hope, too. Articles devoted to fact-checking appear to have been on the rise and were more common than primary misinformation itself.

This pandemic ain’t over, but you can be sure that the misinformation catalogued in our paper will ensure it lasts longer than it needs to.

You can read the full article here, published today in BMJOpen.