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2 June 2021

Social media data unpacks key drivers of COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy

Reveals negative impact of J&J rollout suspension

In addition to corroborating national survey findings that South Africans are predominantly pro-COVID-19 vaccination, social media data is able to unpack the key drivers of vaccine hesitancy, most recently revealing that fear around health and safety grew exponentially when the Johnson & Johnson (J&J) rollout was temporarily suspended.

This is according to the latest data from leading social data company, BrandsEye, who – having accurately predicted Tump’s 2016 US election and the UK’s Brexit referendum outcome – recently homed in on the topical issue of vaccine hesitancy in South Africa.

BrandsEye’s study, which analysed close to 200 000 tweets relating to COVID-19 vaccines between 1 February and 30 April 2021, found that while not all authors expressed an explicit intention or refusal to get vaccinated, of those who did, 68.3% expressed willingness to receive the vaccine.

These finding are in line with both the latest National Income Dynamics Study – Coronavirus Rapid Mobile Survey (NIDS - CRAM) and the University of Johannesburg’s Centre for Social Change and Human Sciences Research Council’s (HSRC) online study, which found that 71% and 67% of South Africans, respectively, would take the COVID-19 vaccine.

Levels of vaccine hesitancy, however, may have been even lower had it not been for the Government’s decision to temporarily halt the administration of J&J’s single-dose COVID-19 vaccine following six reported cases of severe blood clots in the US.

This additional insight comes from BrandsEye CEO, Nic Ray, who highlights the sudden drop in social media Net Sentiment toward the vaccine in April 2021. “While Government understandably had their reasons for suspending the rollout of the J&J vaccination, the data shows how events of this nature have the potential to create a lasting fear that erodes public confidence and ultimately increases vaccine hesitancy on a large scale.”

Social media Net Sentiment toward the vaccine

social media net sentiment toward the vaccine Net Sentiment calculation: positive sentiment - negative sentiment

Building on sentiment analysis, Ray adds that social media data is also able to provide a granular view of themes impacting hesitancy. “In analysing the top themes of vaccine conversation on social media, we found that the vaccine rollout itself remained the largest topic of conversation between February and April 2021, underpinning the importance of continuous, clear and specific communication from Government at every stage of the vaccination process.”

topics in vaccine conversation

This new data demonstrates how social media conversations can serve as an accurate, real-time measure of vaccine hesitancy in the country, notes Ray. “At a relatively low price point, social media data can also provide specific insights around the key drivers of vaccine hesitancy, as well as measure the impact of communications and interventions,” Ray concludes.

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