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1 October 2020

Vaccine hesitancy a major concern in US & UK finds sentiment analysis of 243 000 tweets

Vaccine hesitancy conversation is three times more prevalent than advocacy conversation and generates greater traction on Twitter

Vaccine hesitancy tweets made up 28.2% of Covid-19 vaccine conversation, compared to 8.4% for advocacy tweets, according to an analysis of 243 000 vaccine-related tweets by social media analytics firm, BrandsEye. The analysis of tweets from 28 July to 28 August 2020, found hesitancy tweets generated an average of 4.8 engagements per tweet, tripling the engagement generated by advocacy tweets.

The analysis identified 243 000 tweets about a Covid-19 vaccine from the US and the UK. BrandsEye’s distributed crowd of human contributors analysed the sentiment (positive, negative or neutral) contained in 8 392 tweets and coded a further 1 505 tweets for 9 possible hesitancy themes.

List of vaccine hesitancy themes

Vaccine hesitancy categories

Conspiracy The user believes that the COVID-19 vaccine is part of a conspiracy (not just money-making). Eg: mark of the beast, tracking chips etc.  
No danger The user accepts COVID-19 is real but does not think it is very dangerous or harmful.  
Hoax The user states that COVID-19 is a hoax, conspiracy or simply not real. Includes “plandemic” mentions.  
Health & safety The user references health safety issues, side effects of a COVID-19 vaccine or concerns about the ingredients of the vaccine.  
Mandatory The user is against making the vaccine mandatory or believes it should be optional.  
Pharmaceutical The user doesn’t trust the pharmaceutical industry. Eg: thinks they are tricking people, trying to make money etc.  
Vaccine efficacy The user is doubtful or sceptical about how effective a vaccine will be.  
Scientific process The user thinks that the development of the vaccine is being rushed, has been poorly tested or is otherwise scientifically flawed.  
Politics The user believes the vaccine is political in nature or mistrusts the government about the vaccine.  

Hesitancy tweets were not just a greater portion of the vaccine conversation they also generated greater traction than advocacy tweets. In both countries, there was concern about being forced to take the vaccine and possible side effects.

Vaccine advocates shared news and developments about vaccine trials. The equitable and fair distribution of a vaccine upon availability was a key concern for proponents of a vaccine.

Institutional distrust is a key issue in vaccine discourse. This emerged as a central theme that underlies Covid-19 vaccine conversation and was evident in tweets from both hesitancy and advocacy Twitter users.

In the US hesitancy was driven by health and safety concerns

  • The United States had a marginally higher percentage of hesitancy mentions than the United Kingdom. Health and safety was the top driver of hesitancy conversation. Users shared Dr Fauci’s warnings about the premature release of a vaccine and highlighted concerns around unknown side-effects and adverse reactions.

  • Libertarian views were prevalent in hesitancy conversation related to mandatory vaccines, with US House Representative Thomas Massie driving engagement with a tweet stating that vaccines should be voluntary rather than mandatory.

  • US President, Donald Trump’s relationship with Russia drove concern, as the president allegedly expressed the intention to distribute Russia’s Covid-19 vaccine.

  • Conspiracy theories and mentions about pharmaceutical companies were more prevalent in United States conversation compared to the United Kingdom.

Themes comprising vaccine hesitancy conversation

In the UK government-mandated vaccines drove over a quarter of hesitancy conversation

  • Most of the mentions within the mandatory theme included users petitioning the UK Parliament to not place restrictions on those that refuse the vaccine.

  • Health & safety also drove hesitancy from UK users. Previous medical failures, such as thalidomide, were cited by Twitter users who cautioned against rushing out a vaccine without sufficient testing.

  • Users also called on the UK government to hold pharmaceutical companies liable for harm caused by a Covid-19 vaccine.

  • In the UK, users more frequently referred to the pandemic as a hoax generated by media hype, compared to US users, who were more likely to attribute the pandemic to conspiracy theories, that included Bill Gates’ alleged plan to implant microchips into the public.

Themes comprising vaccine hesitancy conversation

BrandsEye Chief Executive, Nic Ray, said that governments and public health organisations ought to pay close attention to hesitancy sentiment online and the themes driving it, “Unlike other survey methods, social media provides an unprompted and volunteered view of public opinion. By analysing online conversation we hope to broaden the understanding and extent of vaccine hesitancy in specific regions. BrandsEye plans to conduct further analysis of hesitancy sentiments in other regions and is open to inputs from public health bodies and researchers.”

Methodology

BrandsEye identified 243 883 tweets about a Covid-19 vaccine from 28 July – 28 August 2020. 219 671 were from the US and 24 212 from the UK. BrandsEye’s Crowd of human contributors evaluated the sentiment contained in 8 392 mentions. Mentions were assigned sentiment scores of positive, negative or neutral. 1505 mentions were categorised into 9 hesitancy themes.

A complete analysis is contained in the report

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