David Lazer, NULab co-director and University Distinguished Professor of political science and computer and information sciences at Northeastern, was interviewed by Nature, on April 16, for the journal’s news report on researchers’ efforts to fight the spread of disinformation about COVID-19 vaccines. The journal reached out to Lazer because of his ongoing work as co-director of the COVID States Project, which conducts monthly national surveys to gauge public opinion and behavior in response to the pandemic. Nature referenced a pre-print of the COVID States Project’s latest report that found 24% of health care workers, and 21% of all Americans surveyed, do not intend to get vaccinated. The survey also factored education in its results, finding that 33% of health care workers with high school degrees, but only 11% of those with graduate degrees, do not intend to get the COVID vaccine.
Lazer told Nature that patients’ trust in their doctors will be an important factor in reducing misinformation about the COVID vaccine. He said, “I think it’s going to be primary-care providers who will be leading the battle against vaccine resistance. People listen to their doctors, and if their doctors say it’s OK, that will affect their choices.” Lazer’s research has found that doctors and scientists encouraging people to get vaccinated will be more trustworthy to the public than political figures with comparable messages.
On social media platforms, there are many parallels between the spread of fake news during the 2016 and 2020 presidential elections and the spread of disinformation the COVID-19 vaccines. Nature indicated that “false information on the web is propagated mainly by a relatively small number of super-spreaders.” This was one of Lazer’s central findings in the Science journal in 2019, in a research article co-authored with Kenneth Joseph from the University of Buffalo and Nir Grinberg, Lisa Friedland, and Briony Swire-Thompson from the Network Science Institute at Northeastern.