Covid vaccine misinformation target of Pitt study


KDKA CBS NEWS — Fueled by a grant from the Richard King Mellon Foundation, Pitt researchers are studying and combating false online information about vaccines. 

“Vaccines are often the victim of their own success,” said BCHS doctoral student Beth Hoffman, a research assistant at the Center for Research on Behavioral Health, Media and Technology. “I think one of the reasons we’ve seen a rise in anti-vaccine sentiment over the years is people are losing memory of how devastating and deadly these illnesses are.”

Hoffman, along with Jaime Sidani, assistant professor of medicine and a core faculty member in the center, have been conducting social network analyses of hesitancy around the COVID-19 vaccines since the beginning of the pandemic. With this new $117,000 grant and by using publicly available information, the duo will study how misinformation campaign messaging is created and how it changes over time, including how it impacts different communities, such as minority populations.

The research team first noticed misinformation on the COVID-19 vaccines this summer, and was notified of the Richard King Mellon Foundation grant in October, shortly before the first vaccines were announced. “Timing-wise, we have a really great opportunity here to see what public sentiment will be like for the vaccines now that they’ve started rolling out,” said Hoffman.

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