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Healthcare Professionals Can Counter COVID-19 Vaccine Misinformation by Taking to Social Media

Analysis  |  By Jasmyne Ray  
   June 08, 2022

Trusted healthcare providers can use social media platforms to encourage factual dialogue to help address vaccine hesitancy, new study says.

Though healthcare workers are among the most trusted messengers of COVID-19 vaccine information—indeed, nurses have been ranked the most trusted profession for 20 years—many are not leveraging that trust on social media to encourage vaccination, says a first-of-its-kind study led by scientists at the University of Pittsburgh School of Public Health.

The study looks at the motivations and hesitancies among healthcare workers and how they’re shared on social media. As the first round of COVID vaccines were being developed and approved by the FDA,  opinion on their effectiveness was mixed by both the public and some healthcare workers.

Providers can use social media platforms to encourage factual, constructive dialogue with patients to help address vaccine hesitancy, according to the study’s findings, published in the Journal of Community Health.

“In the survey, healthcare workers gave us really compelling, heartwarming reasons why they got vaccinated, but we didn’t see a lot of that data on social media,” said lead author Beth Hoffman, PhD, MPH. “It speaks to the importance not only of healthcare workers sharing their stories, but also providing them support to do so. It’s not enough to say, ‘You should share your story.’ We need to offer training on how they can do that.”

“Many people turn to social media to get information,” Hoffman told HealthLeaders. “As we saw with COVID-19, the absence of reliable, trustworthy information from healthcare workers on these platforms creates a void that can be filled by those propagating anti-vaccine mis- and disinformation.”

Hoffman, a postdoctoral associate with Department of Behavioral and Community Health Sciences at Pitt Public Health, and senior author Jaime Sidani, PhD, MPH, CHES, collaborated with scientists from the Department of Psychiatry at Pitt’s School of Medicine to survey healthcare workers at UPMC Western Psychiatric Hospital about vaccinations for COVID-19.

For their study, they defined a healthcare worker as anyone working in the hospital caring for patients, from providers to cafeteria staff and security personnel. The survey results were particularly insightful since the patients the hospital serves are often stigmatized, said coauthor Antoine Douaihy, MD.

“COVID-19 vaccination uptake among our patients is low because of historical and cultural issues that get in the way of people accepting the vaccine,” he said in a statement. “Learning about the motivations of the healthcare workers who interact with them can teach us how to connect and build trust with patients.”

‘Freedom’ a powerful motivator

The 511 responses were recorded from April to June 2021, with 93.2% claiming to have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. A third of the respondents in this group said they’d posted about it on social media.

In both the social media analysis and the healthcare worker surveys, the researchers identified “freedom” as a powerful motivational theme, which suggests that emphasizing “freedom from fear” once vaccinated could be effective at reducing vaccine hesitancy.

Addressing misinformation related to reproductive health and vaccination, as well as making vaccine clinics accessible and convenient, were other insights the scientists gleaned from the research. 

From a random sample of almost 2,300 tweets about the COVID-19 vaccine, the research team found that 1,863 were posted by individuals—6% of which were authored by individuals who identified as a healthcare worker or health sciences student. Some 95% of the tweets were positive or neutral in their testimonial, yet only 14% of them included a personal narrative.

“Social media is where patients spend a lot of time and see a lot of health information,” Hoffman said. “So, in addition to talking to patients face-to-face, healthcare workers can use social media to share their reasons for getting vaccinated and communicate about other important health issues.”

COVID-19 has shown providers the value of using social media for health communication, Hoffman said, and she believes they will continue to use it going forward for other health topics.

“As we saw with COVID-19, the absence of reliable, trustworthy information from healthcare workers on these platforms creates a void that can be filled by those propagating anti-vaccine mis- and disinformation.”

Jasmyne Ray is the revenue cycle editor at HealthLeaders. 


Health care providers can use social media to engage in constructive, fact-based conversations with patients.

Open lines of conversation, like tweeting about your experience getting vaccinated, can help patients who are hesistant to do so, as well as combat the spread of misinformation.

Other insights the research team gathered from their survey included how to make vaccine clinics more accessible and convenient for patients.

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