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How news messages affect views on vaccination

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New York, March 25 (IANS) News coverage of expert scientific evidence on vaccine safety may increase public acceptance of vaccines, but at the same time, the positive effect is diminished when the expert message is juxtaposed with a personal narrative about the real side-effects, a new research has found.

“We often wondered about stories of vaccine side effects — like the concerns we’ve heard recently with the Covid-19 vaccines,” said lead author Ozan Kuru, who worked on the study at the University of Pennsylvania and is now an assistant professor at the National University of Singapore.

The study tested the effects of messages about vaccination in televised news reports, which included video clips of Anthony Fauci, director of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID).

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In the news report, Fauci talked about the evidence supporting the value and safety of the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine, and a mother who’s refusing to vaccinate her youngest child because her middle child, who is shown with a rash, had what she characterized as severe reactions after receiving the MMR vaccine.

The study, published in the journal PLOS ONE, found that Fauci’s “science-supporting” message had significant positive effects on views about vaccination when compared with a control message.

The “hesitancy-inducing” narrative by the mother had no significant effect by itself on these outcomes. But when the two messages were juxtaposed, with video of the mother preceding Fauci, the mother’s hesitancy narrative diminished the effectiveness of the pro-vaccine message, according to some measures.

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For the study, the research team included 2,345 participants during the largest US measles outbreak in 2019.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “soreness, redness or rash where the shot is given and a rash all over the body can happen after MMR vaccine”, while “more serious reactions happen rarely”, including seizures, temporary pain and stiffness in the joints, pneumonia, and swelling of the brain and/or spinal cord covering.

In a vaccine videos experiment, the researchers used edited videos from televised news coverage with the network identification removed.

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Contrary to the researchers’ initial hypothesis, the mother’s “hesitancy-inducing” narrative did not by itself affect outcomes – which, the authors say, is “generally consistent with research suggesting that exposure to single messages rarely produced an impact”.

However, the fact that it lessened the positive effects of the Fauci video raises concerns and invites further study, the researchers said.

–IANS

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