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COVID-19 vaccine intention linked to trust in the opinion of health experts, media literacy

An early pandemic survey found that respondents’ intentions to receive COVID-19 vaccines were more linked to their media literacy and opinion of health experts than knowledge of the virus or past vaccination behavior.

In the study, published in the American Journal of Health PromotionWashington State University researchers also found that for respondents who had recently refused a flu vaccine, higher COVID-19 knowledge was actually associated with lower future vaccine intentions.

We have known for some time that knowledge and past behavior can provide useful clues about what people will do, but it is often insufficient to reliably predict behavior. What we found was that measures of trust in experts, the ability to identify reliable media sources, and the ability to critically evaluate those media sources were more powerful predictors than either prior vaccine behavior or prior knowledge.”

Erica Austin, director of the WSU Murrow Center for Media and Health Promotion

For this study, the researchers conducted an online survey of 1,264 American adults. The results suggest that people engaged in what is called motivated reasoning: the psychological process by which people deliberately and selectively use facts to reach a conclusion that reinforces their desired beliefs rather than rationally analyzing the evidence.

According to the authors, such processes are strongly influenced by the constantly changing news environment. It is a maze of information, misinformation, which is unintentionally wrong, and disinformation, which is intentionally false.

“There are people out there who are motivated to take that bit of misinformation and build a whole bunch of misinformation or even disinformation to try to sell you an idea or product based around that,” Austin said. . “Often they’re selling you both, but they’re probably not out there to do something good for you; they’re usually out there to do something good for themselves.”

The results have important implications for health promotion practice and research, Austin added. This highlights the importance of individuals’ efforts to independently verify information and the need to build their trust in health professionals. The researchers also recommend that public health campaigns make sure to respect individuals’ freedom to make decisions for themselves, while helping them make those decisions based on accurate information from credible sources.

In addition to Austin, co-authors of the study include Bruce Austin of WSU’s College of Education, Porismita Borah and Shawn Domgaard of WSU’s Murrow College of Communication as well as Sterling McPherson of WSU’s Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine.


Washington State University

Journal reference:

Austin, EW, et al. (2022) How media literacy, trust in experts, and influenza vaccine behavior are associated with COVID-19 vaccine intentions. American Journal of Health Promotion. doi.org/10.1177/08901171221132750.

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