Exposing the Biggest Vaccine Lies and Liars (with Surgeon General Vivek Murthy)
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Andy explores the latest hazard to your health: the misinformation persuading people not to get vaccinated. US Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy has declared war on misinformation and explains why he put out a rare Surgeon General’s Advisory on the topic. Andy then covers the latest data on how Americans get information and what they believe with Molly Brodie of the Kaiser Family Foundation. And Dr. Lisa is out and about having conversations with people on the street in North Carolina and Virginia.
Keep up with Andy on Twitter @ASlavitt and Instagram @andyslavitt. Dr. Lisa is on Twitter @askdrfitz.
Follow Dr. Vivek Murthy on Twitter @Surgeon_General or @vivek_murthy. Follow Molly Brodie @Mollybrodie.
Check out In the Bubble’s Twitter account @inthebubblepod.
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Check out these resources from today’s episode:
- Read Surgeon General Vivek Murthy’s advisory on confronting health misinformation: https://www.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/surgeon-general-misinformation-advisory.pdf
- Learn more about the 5 most common COVID-19 vaccine myths American adults believe: https://www.kff.org/coronavirus-covid-19/poll-finding/kff-covid-19-vaccine-monitor-april-2021/
- Here is the Kaiser Family Foundation’s report looking at people’s vaccine decisions 6 months after their initial polling: https://www.kff.org/coronavirus-covid-19/poll-finding/kff-covid-19-vaccine-monitor-in-their-own-words-six-months-later/
- Check out the Kaiser Family Foundation’s latest COVID-19 vaccine data: https://www.kff.org/coronavirus-covid-19/poll-finding/kff-covid-19-vaccine-monitor-june-2021/
- Find a COVID-19 vaccine site near you: https://www.vaccines.gov/
- Order Andy’s book, Preventable: The Inside Story of How Leadership Failures, Politics, and Selfishness Doomed the U.S. Coronavirus Response: https://us.macmillan.com/books/9781250770165
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Molly Brodie, Dr. Vivek Murthy, Dr. Lisa Fitzpatrick, Andy Slavitt
Andy Slavitt 00:17
Welcome to IN THE BUBBLE. I’m your host, Andy Slavitt. This week’s episodes are hot. Today we’re going to come to understand something that I find truly astounding in our fight to win the war against COVID. Truly astounding. To help you understand this, to help me tell the story. I’m going to bring three different people on. The US Surgeon General—Vivek Murthy is going to join us. Molly Brodie, who is the leading pollster on Americans attitudes and actions regarding the vaccines. And of course, Dr. Lisa, who’s gonna have a really eye-opening set of interactions with Americans in the street. But here’s the astounding thing. Two thirds of unvaccinated Americans believe a major falsehood about the vaccine. Two thirds of unvaccinated Americans believe a major falsehood the vaccine. By the way, during the episode, you’re gonna hear me refer to it as three quarters.
We’ve gone back since and done the analysis I was estimating it’s two thirds, now three quarters. So don’t get confused like I did. Two thirds of Americans who are unvaccinated believe one of, we’ll talk about five major falsehoods of the vaccines. And after talk to these three folks, today, on Wednesday, it is the granddaddy of all misinformation shows, I’m going to talk to the largest purveyor of misinformation and disinformation in the world, Facebook. So that show which I’ve already recorded, is also hot. It’s fascinating. You got to listen to these two shows, you got to listen to this one now. Listen to that one afterwards. And we are really going to hopefully get a real understanding for what we are doing to ourselves, what we’re putting Americans through the scope and scale of misinformation is just astounding.
Andy Slavitt 02:28
A small number of loud voices, who are basically manipulating the content on social media through algorithms, paint, subtle doubts and falsehoods, in a very sophisticated way, and we’re gonna hear how they do it, we’re gonna understand how they do it, and we’re gonna understand the impact of it. And it’s truly just shocking. And their aim is what, what is their aim? It’s to prevent people from getting vaccinated. Last year, these very same people were people like them, did the very same thing. And their aim was to deny the scale of the challenge, and basically prevent Americans from trying to protect themselves. This is a legitimate killer. This is a legitimate killer. And yet it’s complex. We have to understand the legitimate conversations that exist in the gray areas, not the outright lies, but the subtle areas that people use to plant doubts.
And then turn around and shout that policing this becomes the equivalent of canceled culture. That’s what we’re up against. Let’s start with understanding what we’re hearing from people. And so Dr. Lisa went out in the field a number of times and collected a sense of people’s attitudes. Try to understand where people get their information, understand what kind of things they’re hearing out there. And before we meet the purveyors of misinformation, we should take a listen to what the public says.
Dr. Lisa Fitzpatrick 04:15
Where do you get most of your information about the pandemic and the vaccine?
Most of it on Twitter, TikTok, online, Facebook, Fox.
Dr. Lisa Fitzpatrick
Tell me the craziest thing you’ve heard about Coronavirus and the vaccine, particularly on social media.
Craziest thing about the vaccine? Oh, that’d kill you.
It’s killing people or like it doesn’t work at all or like it’s like the government testing experiments and stuff on us.
I’d say probably just that it’s government created to control people.
The vaccine paralyzed you. The vaccine was going blind you.
You know, it’s not real. COVID isn’t real the vaccines are getting chips put in us.
Dr. Lisa Fitzpatrick
So, where is this information coming from?
It’s coming from social Media. Twitter.
In general, how have you felt about the communication about the pandemic throughout the pandemic?
Oh, from flip flop and Fauci. And all the people around him, not good.
The other day he gave information about that the kids, little kids under six should be receiving a vaccination and that’s not true.
The virus is not interested in young people. I don’t know if you’re aware of that. They’ve just developed a new vaccine in Montgomery county in Gaithersburg, a company there did it that doesn’t involve this mRNA, which actually goes in your body and never leaves your body and
Dr. Lisa Fitzpatrick 06:04
Actually the mRNA, it’s already in your body doing lots of other things. And it doesn’t stick around very long at all. Just so you know. When you see health information on social media, how do you decide whether or not you trust it?
I had to do thorough research. I’m a person who does research so I tend not to look at a lot of articles on social media. And most of my articles I’m looking I have to go look for myself the actual article. If it’s on social media, I know cuz people’s was cut and paste, and you’ll have the whole thing. And then they go out and they cut it, paste it. Tell somebody else about it. But the thing about that, you don’t even know what you read because it was taken out of context maybe another, you know, the whole article.
Dr. Lisa Fitzpatrick
Do you think the social media outlets or platforms have a responsibility to address misinformation?
I think they do. They should be making sure the information that they get is right and correct. I think that they should completely ban the word COVID, Coronavirus, anything like that unless it’s coming from a credited source. So the CDC or the WHO should be able to post about it and use those certain words. If not, then why are you speaking about it?
Dr. Lisa Fitzpatrick
How do you think we build trust in health information?
That’s a good question. That really is a good question. Be consistent. And just stay out of the political mainstream.
So I want to be clear, this is not a stupid public, this is not ignorance. I’m not trying to make fun of anybody. I know when I play things like this, and people hear things like this. They may think that we’re mocking people or having fun with people. We are not, this is what people are hearing. This is a blank slate public. This is a public that is faced with fear and uncertainty and unsure where to listen. Yes, biases, sure, of course, biases that people come with, and bubbles, information bubbles, and algorithms that feed on those biases, and they feed on those bubbles. This is the shape of the world that Americans find themselves in. And it means that people who want to exploit this, just have to get into those information bubbles, just have to work those algorithms.
Andy Slavitt 08:29
Social media means it’s not a game of telephone any longer that you had when you were a kid where if somebody says something that they think is right, and goes through a number of voices, and it gets altered. This is less like a game of telephone and more like a nuclear arsenal that you can weaponize if you want to mislead the public. Robert Kennedy and Tucker Carlson, rule the day on Facebook. They know how to play this game and win. And we’re going to be talking directly about that. misinformation is a public health crisis. It is a public health hazard. So says none other than the US surgeon general Vivek Murthy. Vivek, as you may know and I are friends. We overlapped in the Obama administration.
We overlapped when I just served briefly in the Biden White House. And he and I were both intently focused on this topic of misinformation. Only he decided to do something really unusual. He decided to issue what’s called a Surgeon General’s Advisory. He’s basically warning the country. That misinformation kills. It is dangerous to smoking. It is dangerous as over eating. So joining me for the rest of my sermon today is the Surgeon General of the United States—Vivek Murthy.
Are you plugged in, ready to go? Is everybody ready to go?
Dr. Vivek Murthy 10:08
How did it go today?
Dr. Vivek Murthy
It went well, overall. Yeah, it’s been good. We’ve been doing a lot of media; you know about the advisory and had a lot of interest in it. So what’s interesting is that everyone is aware that there has been misinformation out there. But I think what has been a hard is figuring out what we do about it, and how to lay out a path forward. And so, you know, even though we don’t have all the answers, I think in this advisory, we were laying down a marker that this is actually a critical health issue. And there are things and things that we can do right now to address it, even as we you know, try to answer questions that are, you know, still need answering. So, I’m hopeful that this will be the first of many steps that we can take to address this. Because, as you know, it’s not just about COVID. It’s about so many other health issues.
Well, I think what’s brilliant about what you did, and like we should stop and tell the audience what it is exactly that we did today that we’re talking about was you named it in a way that I think when people look back and named, you know, seatbelts and named other things, as a society, we could finally focus on it and finally look for solutions. So once you tell people like what, what it is we’re talking about?
Dr. Vivek Murthy
Well, today, Andy, I issued a Surgeon General’s Advisory on the dangers of health misinformation, and Surgeon General Advisories are documents that are rarely issued. And they’re saved for critical public health threats. And in this case, looking at the data, understanding the impact of health misinformation, I felt that it fit that criteria of being a critical public health threat. What we’ve seen even during COVID is that misinformation about there, out there about health has led people, for example, to not get vaccinated, because they heard myths about the vaccine or to not wear masks because they came across information, false information that said masks don’t help to prevent transmission, or in some cases, even the masks were dangerous to wear. So we’ve seen health misinformation lead people to getting sick. We’ve seen it cost us lives. And for that reason, we wanted to call this out as an urgent public health threat.
Andy Slavitt 12:22
So you go so far as to say that health misinformation, and we come back and talk about how to define that. Did you go back and you didn’t go as far as to say that it is a threat to our health, our health right now, and health in the lives of the people who we live with and care about.
Dr. Vivek Murthy
That’s absolutely right. And I’ll tell you this handy that, you know, as a doctor, I remember seeing patients over the years who were struggling with health misinformation before COVID. You know, I remember many times sitting down with patients and trying to tease apart the information that they had read online or gotten from a friend or seen on their social media platforms. And they were wondering, is this true or not? Does this mean I should stop the medications I’m on or not? Should I not get the procedure I was about to get. These health decisions become really complicated if you don’t have accurate information. And that’s the interesting and concerning thing about health misinformation is it takes away our power to make the best decisions for our health and for our families.
Dr. Vivek Murthy
But even though Andy, we’ve had health misinformation around for a long time, there’s something that’s different that’s happening right now, which is that this speed and scale at which health misinformation is spreading is really unparalleled. And it’s happening in part aided and abetted by technology platforms, which are really, you know, the places where much of this misinformation is spreading. And that’s why in this advisory today, we didn’t just state the what the problem was, but we laid out pathways that various sectors could take to help address it. And this really has to be an all of society approach. So there are things individuals can do to address misinformation like checking your sources for information before you post an article online or post other information online.
Dr. Vivek Murthy 14:05
If it’s not coming from a credible scientific source, don’t share it. And if you’re not sure, don’t share it. We also lay out what technology companies need to do. You know, they’ve taken some steps to try to address misinformation, but not nearly enough and not quickly enough. But they need to do more in terms of sharing some of their data about the amount of misinformation that’s proliferating these platforms with researchers, they need to do more to change your algorithm so that they don’t continue to serve up content that’s false individuals after they see false content the first time around. So a lot of steps that tech companies can take. We also lay out steps that others educators, healthcare professionals, researchers, and certainly government can take but this has got to be an all of society response.
So we have a link to this with each of those things and it is quite complete in the show notes. Are there villains here, Vivek? Is there equivalent of the, you know, cigarette manufacturer in this situation or the opioid company that’s knowingly pumping out pill mills, is there a bad guy?
Dr. Vivek Murthy
Well, there is some misinformation out there that is willfully spread. We call that disinformation. And some of that is coming from people right here in America, some of it is coming from outside our shores. But the majority of misinformation is actually likely spread by individuals who think that they’re just helping their friends and family by getting them information that they think is useful, even though it is actually inaccurate. But there’s another group here that concerns me, which are the technology platforms themselves, which, you know, even though they didn’t start out to spread misinformation, they started, many of them started out to give people an opportunity to connect with one another, and to build community. But with that said, we are seeing extraordinary flow of mixing misinformation on these technology platforms.
Dr. Vivek Murthy
And I think that comes with a responsibility to do something about it. If you create a product, you should not only enjoy the benefits that it brings to the world, but you should be responsible for, you know, is certainly on a moral level for the harms that it may do society. And in this case, we see significant harm coming from social platforms that don’t have strong enough guardrails and measures to reduce the flow of misinformation.
Andy Slavitt 16:25
Is this kind a call out to the tech companies in specific, recognize you spoke to other audiences, but is one of the things you hope happens from this some increased attention, whether it’s from Congress, or whether it’s from regulators or certainly tech companies themselves, is this a call out that for a level of responsibility that they haven’t taken so far? And look, I have our friends from Facebook, on the episode coming up on Wednesday. And that’s going to be quite an interesting episode, because I’m going to try to take the conversation. Today, I’m going to try to hear what they have to say. But how do you view that?
Dr. Vivek Murthy
Well, you know, as Surgeon General, my job is to get information to people about what science tells us and to call out critical public health risks. This is certainly one of them. And my intent, and my approach has always been to try to work with people with stakeholders across the country to help address issues like misinformation, the technology companies are one of those stakeholders. You know, we’ve been talking to them for a while, and they have taken some steps in the right direction. And I don’t think look, I think a lot of the people that we have been working with are good folks who I think are trying to do the right thing. But, with that said, there are times when the urgency of the problem demands that we ratchet up our efforts, that we dramatically increase, you know, how aggressive we’re being, and putting solutions in place and this is one of those moments.
Dr. Vivek Murthy
And my worry, my concern with some of our technology companies is that they’re not doing enough, and they’re certainly not doing it fast enough. So I certainly appreciate the intentions, I’ve appreciated the chance to engage with them, we want to stay and we will stay engaged with them, and will push them in the right direction. Now what other branches of government do whether it’s Congress, you know, or others, like what others in the private sector choose to do in terms of advocacy groups, that is certainly up to them. That is your purview. But again, my goal here is to lay out where the problem is coming from, and to urge all of us to take action. And it’s undeniable that a significant portion of this misinformation problem is coming from technology platforms.
Andy Slavitt 19:01
So here’s what I think. And you know, you and I had a chance to work on this together in the Biden administration. And of course, we’ve known each other for a number of years. As people who listen to this podcast for a while now, you know, I think you are creating a body of knowledge and a label that hopefully others will then use, whether it’s the Congress to say, hey, we need to investigate and understand this because it’s a real problem, whether it’s people who will measure the effects, even more tangibly than had been measured and you had some data in your reports, but there’s a lot more data to be had out there. And whether it’s a shot across the vow to these platforms, who as you say, have a certain amount of responsibility because they make money off of these platforms. How do you think they’re going to respond to this Surgeon General’s Advisory today?
Dr. Vivek Murthy
Well, first and the way you characterize this advisory in these kind of products is exactly right. Like we publish surgeon reports and advisories so that we can only draw attention to an issue but we can give a tool, an important tool to other groups in the country, whether it’s in government or the private sector, to take more action. But my hope in terms of how the technology companies will respond is I hope, that they will recognize the urgency here that they will see that the country understands that this is an urgent issue, and that they are at the heart of what needs to, who needs to be engaged to address it. And I hope that they will step up, and that they will take action. You know, I’m certainly willing, as Surgeon General to work with any partner who wants to be a part of this solution.
Dr. Vivek Murthy 20:41
And we’ll keep talking and working with the technology companies and with educators and healthcare providers and others out there, this doesn’t have to be adversarial. But accountability is important. And when I think about how personal this has been, for folks out there, you know, I have now 10 family members who have died from COVID-19, I think so often about what it would have been like if they had had the chance to get vaccinated. I think about my kids who were three and four, they’re too young to get vaccinated. They’re not eligible yet. But like all kids who are under 12, Andy, they depend on the rest of us being vaccinated to shield them from the virus in our communities.
Dr. Vivek Murthy
And the more people who are thwarted from getting their vaccine, because of misinformation, the fewer kids who are protected, the more family members will get sick and may die. And what we’re seeing right now is 99.5% of the deaths that are taking place right now in our country are happening in people who are not vaccinated. So the consequences of this misinformation are real, it’s more than about numbers. And that’s why my message to technology companies is we can’t wait any longer. We’ve got to take aggressive action, we got to hold ourselves accountable if you’re a technology company, for what’s happening on your sites, it’s no longer enough to say we’re trying, or we’ll get there in six months or a year, you got to do better, because lives depend on it.
Andy Slavitt 22:07
And I’m just going to repeat that what you said a part of it. First of all, I’m so sorry about your people. Vivek just disclosed, I heard you say to the press conference today that 10 of his own people, his own family, were unable to get vaccinated, and they’re lost. Those are losses that we all know, can’t be replaced. So first of all, I think on behalf of everybody listening to this. Sorry, you had to share that. Thank you for sharing it. And thank you also for like the president so often does bringing yourself out your whole self into this job, your mind, your body, your heart, all the caring you have for this country, we have right back at you Vivek.
Dr. Vivek Murthy
Thank you, my friend. Appreciate that.
And the actions you’re taking today, hopefully will lead to people taking on something that I think we just accept as a part of life, I think, to these days, we just expect that half the things we see may or may not be true. And until now, I think nobody has really said we’re going to define the damage that this causes. And that this that this creates. And you know, to remind people who don’t know this, you are the Surgeon General, who took a stand against other public health crises and call them public health crises what others hadn’t been willing, such as the presence of guns, particularly around children. And obviously people some people like that some people didn’t that like that, they found that controversial. Do you expect here that you’ve just entered the canceled culture debate about policing people’s words, which is sort of a common refrain is going to get thrown around here in defense of Tucker Carlson and Robert Kennedy and whomever else who are purposely putting forward and these are my words, I’m calling those two individuals out there and many others who are purposely putting out falsehoods.
Dr. Vivek Murthy 24:01
Well, Andy, I think it’s a good insight you have there, and I do think there are points here, which will be hotly debated. I think one of them is his question around censorship. And some have already raised the question is, is this advice you’re trying to advocate for censorship? No, I mean, free speech is a bedrock value of our country. We need to protect freedom of speech. But that doesn’t mean that we need to allow misinformation that we know harms people’s health to run rampant. That doesn’t mean that people need to lose their lives, because we haven’t figured out how to manage misinformation. Part of the reason we push out this advisory is not because we have all the answers, but also to raise important questions that we need to come together to answer. But what has happened for too long, Andy, Is it sometimes because things are complicated. We are paralyzed.
Dr. Vivek Murthy 24:52
We choose not to take action, maybe because they’re politically complicated or technically complicated or both. This is a case where there are technical challenges here, and they were likely going to be political sensitivities. But as I said, the first time around when I was nominated to serve as Surgeon General with a controversy over my calling gun violence and public health issue surface then and nearly cost me my nomination. If the truth is a truth, it’s worth saying, and we can’t shy away from the facts. We can’t shy away from the reality because we’ve seen in COVID-19, what happens when we don’t tackle issues like mouth misinformation, people get sick, people die, family members lose the people they love. And that’s a cost of not taking on these big challenges. So will there be difficulties ahead, thorny issues to work through? Absolutely. Yes. Are they worth taking on? Certainly. And that’s the goal of this advisory.
Well, let’s score one today for courage. And it’s something that, you know, I’ve often felt, you know, sometimes you’re in these positions in the government. And you know, you’re about to do something where not everybody is going to be happy. And you ask yourself, boy, there’s an easier way should I take the easier path out. And as much as everything else, in the particularly in the important roles in our government, like Surgeon General, there’s one thing I go to bed and prayed every night, it’s the people in those roles will find the courage when they’re in the room. And there’s a difficult thing to do to in fact, do it. You delivered one for the good guys today, vac. So thank you, thanks for coming on and telling us about it. I think this is hopefully going to lead to our ability to deal with an issue that is just gotten worse and worse and worse and worse.
Dr. Vivek Murthy 26:40
I so appreciate that, Andy, and you’re very generous. But I’ll tell you that the when I think about courage, you know, I think that all of these people in our country or fellow Americans who have really struggled over this past year and a half who live courageously put themselves in harm’s way their health care workers, public health leaders, who’ve taken on these attacks from folks, attacks often spurred by misinformation. But they kept showing up to work, they kept doing the hard job that had to be done. I spoke earlier today, in fact, to a nurse from Florida, who took care of so many patients with COVID-19, many of whom died that he stopped counting after his 135th patient died from COVID.
Dr. Vivek Murthy
And I just spoke to him today because his hospital is once again filling up with COVID patients, because the virus, the Delta variant, is again triggering surges among those who are unvaccinated. There is courage all around us if we were willing to look for it. And I think about those people in our communities often who are stepping up for their kids, their neighbors, their patients, because what they deserve is to know that the people who are put in positions of power who are given public titles and public positions, that they’re going to have at least as much courage as they are as they have, and that they’re going to fight for them and address the issues that are making their lives harder. This issue of health misinformation is one that is making people’s lives harder.
Dr. Vivek Murthy 28:07
And if you’re a parent out there who’s trying to figure out how to take care of your child, and how to deal with their healthcare challenges. If you’re someone out there who’s trying to figure out how to protect your parents, you know, or others in your family who may be at risk of COVID-19. You deserve to have accurate information that you can rely on to make the right decisions for you and your family. That’s what this advisory is really about. That’s what this issue is about. It’s about giving people back the power that they deserve, to make the right decisions to protect their health, and the health of the people they love.
It’s a great way to look at it, that expression that information is power and that we’re being robbed of our own power when people pervade the stuff. Well, thank you. I know you got to get in a plane. Great Day. Don’t let hard work went into it. Well done, man.
Dr. Vivek Murthy
Well, thank you so much, Andy, for all of your support, and for your friendship, appreciate it.
Thanks, Vivek, for coming on. I actually think it’s a great show of confidence in our show that people like Vivek and Jen Psaki and Rochelle Walensky and others that have important things to talk about and news to make are willing to come on our show, talking about these topics and very much appreciated.
To bring you very high-quality content, thought, analytics, data, and information is the great Molly Brodie. Molly is the Vice President at the Kaiser Family Foundation. She has been and remains the leading pollster when it comes to Americans attitudes and actions about Coronavirus, about how to respond to the pandemic and for the past six months about vaccines and vaccinations and she’s just completed some amazing research which he’s going to share with us that’s been released but it’s not been one we seen about whether Americans are actually doing what they say they’re doing. Where they’re getting the information, how their minds are getting changed, how often their minds are getting changed, what might change their mind. So, let’s invite one of the two best Brodie’s on this podcast. Molly Brodie.
Andy Slavitt 30:29
All right. Well, welcome back to the show. One of the few people that we’ve invited back, Molly Brodie, and Molly Brodie is going to come talk to us today about what is going on in the world of misinformation and disinformation. For those of you don’t remember Molly was on the show with Tina Fey who she sounds very similar to from a voice standpoint. It’s also funny, and she helped us about a year ago understand people’s attitudes towards measures around Coronavirus. She’s done an incredible amount of research into people who are getting vaccinated not getting vaccinated and why. So welcome, Molly.
Thank you. And thank you for having me back. I have to say being able to say to people that I once was on a podcast with Tina Fey, although you know, it wasn’t exactly co at the same time is pretty, pretty big highlight of my career. So thank you for that opportunity.
For her, too. Now, are you the number one Brodie that’s been on the show or the number two Brodie that’s been on the show?
Well, you know, in my own opinion, Brodie Slavitt is the number one Brodie who’s been on the show, because all dogs are the best things in the whole wide world. And in fact, my sweet Charlie Brodie is right next to me, and hopefully she’ll stay asleep while we’re talking.
Got it. Let’s dive in a little bit to understand. Maybe we start with a baseline and remind us what percentage of Americans have been vaccinated? And of those that haven’t? What percentage are open to getting vaccinated? And what percentage are really not considering it at all?
Molly Brodie 32:06
Yeah, so from all of our, you know, research that we’ve just been doing continuously since the start of the pandemic, at this point, about 67% of American adults tell us that they’ve been vaccinated, that leaves so about a third who isn’t vaccinated. Among that unvaccinated population, there’s really two different groups, there’s a group who is very strong in their opinion that they’re definitely not going to get vaccinated. And they’ve sort of been in that position for a very long time. And we can talk more about them. But that is about two thirds of that third, so about 20% of Americans are in this sort of definitely not or only if required category. The other group, the sort of wait and see, how’s it affecting other people, this group that’s still open to the being vaccinated is about a third of that vaccinated group or about 1 in 10 Americans.
Got it. So what reasons do people give for not getting vaccinated?
Well, you know, again, the reasons are a little bit different between these two groups. The number one reason we generally got is side effects. And the long-term effects of the vaccine aren’t known. So people are just having a lot of fear about what they’ve heard about side effects and about things that they’re not sure may or may not be true about the vaccines, then there’s a group and it’s particularly the group who definitely doesn’t want to get the vaccine, who really just doesn’t think they need it. They don’t want it, they don’t need it, they think the risk of the vaccine outweighs the risk of getting COVID itself. So really, you know, we’ve measured 1000 ways we’ve asked people and they’re open ended, ways to tell us we’ve seen it in focus groups. And at the end of the day, it sort of boils down to those as the biggest reasons, there are a group and I think it’s important to remember this that’s in the kind of wait and see category.
Who really does still have access barriers, that some of those that are really related to their employment status that they haven’t been able to get time off for. They’re afraid that if they get sick from the vaccine, they won’t be able to take time off work. And those just are additional barriers that once you add fears about side effects and concerns about some of the myths that are associated with the vaccines and then you add in access barriers and not being able to get the vaccine in a trusted place it just gets even harder for those people to get over the hurdle and switch themselves from being a wait and see to an already vaccinated.
Andy Slavitt 34:51
Let me try to just define something and see if you agree with this so we can talk about it. misinformation, information that people are hearing that’s not quite right. And may or may not be purposely misleading. But for example, people may be hearing information that the vaccine hurts your fertility. Or they may be hearing information that is more dangerous to get vaccinated than not. But it’s coming from a place where it’s that intentionally deceptive. Disinformation, that this would be, you know, mythology that’s created to purposely convince people not to get vaccinated. What would you say are the most well, first of all, the what percentage of that call it a third of Americans that have been vaccinated, which you say, are to one degree or another subject to either misinformation or disinformation? And that if that were corrected, we wouldn’t have this bigger problem?
Wow, there’s a lot in that question. So let me kind of take it step by step. We have measured a variety of types of exactly what you were talking about sort of misinformation, it’s things that may not be communicated in a nefarious way. It’s just misinformation confusion. So things like the number one, the most common misperception is that you can get COVID-19 from the vaccine itself. Others are that there are fetal cells in the vaccine concoction basically, others are that the vaccines have been shown to cause infertility. There’s a lot of mis information and confusion around whether if you’ve already had COVID, whether or not you need to get vaccinated.
Molly Brodie 36:33
And then there’s also this myth out there that the vaccines itself changes your DNA. So those are sort of the top things confusion, misinformation we’ve heard over time, we’ve measured that. And I’ll tell you, it’s pretty ubiquitous, right? So overall, for all Americans, about 54%, more than half believe, at least one of those things to be true or unsure about it. Now, you’re exactly right. It really, really does differ by your vaccine intentions. So interestingly, even among those who are vaccinated about 4 in 10, believe one of those things or aren’t sure about it. So they took the leap of faith even having sort of this misconception or not being clear, and they got vaccinated anyway. But among the definitely not group, 8 in 10 believe one of those things, among the only […] group 75%, three quarters believe one of those things.
And then among the wait and see group, it’s about 6 in 10. So to answer your first question, these kinds of myths, misinformation and confusion, are ubiquitous. To the extent that they are driving the unvaccinated, to not get vaccinated. I think there’s certainly a part of the story we’ve seen and that, you know, we can talk a little bit about this recent study we did, where people told us why they switch their opinion, why they ended up switching their intentions. And in many cases, it was that a doctor corrected the misperception or that they saw in real life that their friends and family didn’t have these things happen to them once they got vaccinated. But I can’t I don’t want to leave listeners with this idea that if we just went on a massive information campaign, it would switch everybody’s use, and they would jump over. The reasons people are unvaccinated are complicated, and intertwined. And but one of the things that is stopping many people are these fears and this misinformation.
Andy Slavitt 38:32
It’s very interesting. It sounds much more pervasive than I would have thought it sounds like if I were going to average out what you said, that of the people who weren’t vaccinated somewhere close to three and four, believed or influenced to some degree or other by some form of misinformation. And well, what I think you saying that not all of those would instantly get vaccinated if that misinformation were corrected. It’s strikes me that we have to acknowledge it as one of the biggest problems or challenges that we have.
Absolutely. And I think it’s one of the reasons why we hear over and over from people that they want to hear about the vaccine from their health care providers, and they want their doctors and their health care providers to have a real conversation with them so that they can get some of these questions answered.
You mentioned misinformation. Is there another category of things that fall into the disinformation category specifically?
It’s hard to disentangle in a given individuals case or on a survey exactly whether they’re getting misinformation, disinformation, you know exactly where they’re hearing it. We know that you know, the number one sources of information about COVID itself has been cable news and network news. I mean, that’s where people have mostly heard about it. We do also know that the people in the definitely not group are the most likely to tell us that they get the most information from social media. So and again, on social media, it’s harder and harder to figure out exactly where the sources are of that information. So, you know, it is a very challenging area to try to figure out exactly what a given person has been exposed to, and what’s really driving their views. But you hear all the time in open ended responses and in focus groups, you hear people say, well, I heard this, or I saw a story about this. And you know, they, it’s hard to convince them otherwise. And it really does take a long conversation with somebody that they trust to try to help correct that information.
Andy Slavitt 40:35
It feels like we’re subject to this, if you hear it once. It’s one thing, but that, that maybe people are living in a world where they’re subject to hearing these things, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 times, at which point in time, people start to believe them. I mean, if you hear about a microchip being inserted into a vaccine once. But if everybody in your town, or everybody in your Facebook group says the same thing. At some point in time, does that make it more compelling are people in a sort of self-reinforcing circle, where they then repeat the same misinformation. It feels like, if we look at the country, we’re very much geographically clustered. We have parts of the country, New England, whichever, you know, 80% plus vaccination levels, and parts of the country, parts of Arkansas and Missouri and others areas nearby where, you know, it’s closer to 50% or even lower. And so how much of this misinformation is this kind of you drop a little dab of poison in the well, and you could just watch it spread?
You know, what we know from our data is this idea of very homogeneous vaccination worlds is exactly true. So we know that 75% of people who are vaccinated are in households where everybody else is vaccinated. With 75% of the unvaccinated and households where everyone is not vaccinated. We know that your friendship circles are very much aligned with being vaccinated or not vaccinated. We certainly know that your media sources are generally very polarized, but also, you’re only getting information from sort of your chosen source, where you’re hearing sort of the same messages over and over again, it’s very few people who both watch Fox news and MSNBC, for example. They’re either a Fox news viewer, or they’re an MSNBC viewer. And so you’re hearing sort of a certain perspective on the vaccines over and over again, and your friendship groups are your family groups are and as we can talk about in the study that we just did, we really saw just how powerful the impact of your friends and family are on your vaccination decisions.
Andy Slavitt 42:41
You know, it’s a focus for a second on social media. One of the things I was charged with in the White House was taking on the whole social media conversation around misinformation and disinformation. It turns out, it is, you know, in polite company, nobody says they’re anti-Vax. I mean, some people do, but that doesn’t influence people. In fact, most commonly, people say, I’m not anti Vax, but you should see what happened to my sister-in-law, or you should see how big this needle was, here’s a giant picture of a giant needle for needle phobes. Or, you know, you should hear this, that or the other, they would be more about planting doubts on the margin, and it was what the social media platforms referred to, as this kind of like, middle of the road content that was designed directly to target through algorithms, the people who were most susceptible, but it wasn’t as blatant, you know, as something that would cause people to doubt it.
Yeah, and I guess from our data, you know, what, what we’ve seen is that, that exact kind of poster information would be very powerful for people. People tell us the most, you know, they’re hearing so much about the about COVID, from their friends and family, and that’s who they trust, they trust their friends and family, they trust their doctor, they’re telling us that it is their friends and family who are persuading them either to get vaccinated or to not get vaccinated. So I think that it makes a lot of sense that that’s what you, you know, are hearing and seeing. And it’s, you know, a very powerful strategy. Again, given what we know about how people are processing this kind of new information. And, you know, we talked a little bit about it before, but we’re in a world. You know, the pandemic really laid bare so many of the underlying inequities in our healthcare system, and a whole bunch of other underlying social ills that we have, and one of them is just the fundamental distrust we’re dealing within the nation.
Molly Brodie 44:49
You know, get a just as a little plug for your amazing book Preventable, which I still can’t believe you had time to write this year. You really talk a lot about our need to reestablish public trust. And I think what we’ve seen in our data is that it’s not just that levels of distrust about the government or at, you know, historic lows in terms of, you know, people really distrust the government, but that is now translated to distrust of public health officials of their local public health department, of their state government, of experts in general. And I think in a world like that, people are really relying more and more and more on what they’re hearing from their friends and family. And when they see how do they interact with their friends and family these days, particularly to pandemic through social media. And so when they see the kind of posts that you were just describing, it makes a lot of sense to me. That that’s a strategy that the nefarious actors are using.
And is there a platform that people point to more than others as a place where they’re relying on and getting either disinformation or rely on. Is there a specific social media platform?
You know, I think that it’s just very much consistent with what they use, right? So we know that people are using Facebook, we know that Facebook users tend to be sort of older. At this stage, we know that, you know, many of the younger people are using a lot of these new platforms. And I think that the actors that you’re talking about, are very well versed in where people are getting their information, and they’re using all of them in different ways. But I don’t think that there’s any data, it’s certainly not we don’t have data. I haven’t seen any other data that says there’s one platform over another that’s contributing more to this. It’s all about where people get their information.
Andy Slavitt 46:38
Well, you’re gonna want to listen to Wednesday’s episode when I have Facebook themselves on to talk about this. So that’s coming up on Wednesday. You’re helping me prepare for that.
Yeah, yeah, I mean, there, I know, there’s been a lot of been in a lot of meetings where there’s a lot of people at Facebook and other, you know, the big platforms who are really working hard to promote trustworthy information and to try to do what they can to get rid of nefarious information. But again, there’s this middle ground of just confusion, and that I think, is just really hard. And so when somebody does share something about their sister-in-law, who got the vaccine and was in bed for a week, you know, and that was way worse than when her other sister-in-law got COVID. And only, you know, was barely sick. You know, that, you know, is that misinformation? That’s somebody’s real life experience.
Now, they’ve got difficult decisions to make. You did some fascinating work recently, where you looked at the question of, do people change their minds? How fluid are people in considering this. In other words, in January, you ask people, if they plan to get vaccinated and what their attitude was, and then you track them? And you saw what happened? Can you talk us through what you saw, what you learned?
Yeah, really, I think some of the most important data research that we’ve uncovered, and, you know, the top-level finding, perhaps isn’t that interesting, which is that people are pretty good at predicting their behavior, predicting what they ultimately would do. So in January, in fact, of the people who said that they wanted to get vaccinated as soon as possible. 92% of them are vaccinated today, right? And of the people in January, who told us that they definitely did not want to get vaccinated, or they were only going to do if they were required, well, 75% of them are still unvaccinated. But what’s really, so that’s, you know, interesting in and of itself, is that you can that people were pretty good at predicting where they were going to be six months later on vaccination.
What helps us I think, better learn from the study is the switchers, right? So it’s of the people who were in the wait and see category, over half 54% of them got vaccinated. But it’s also learning what the people who are still in the way to see category said to us about why they’re still there that I think is really powerful, and probably most importantly, of the group who had said they were never gonna get vaccinated, a quarter of them are vaccinated. And so learning what persuaded them and what changed their mind, I think is some of the most helpful things that we can take away, going forward now, as we’re still trying to encourage and help the people in these last categories make, you know, fundamental decisions for themselves about whether they get vaccinated or not.
So what do we know about that? What do we know about what moves people who were either on the fence or who felt that they were in the definitely no category?
Yeah, I would say that. The most important thing is your friends and family and your real experiences with the vaccine and what you saw happen to people and your friends and families persuasion. So for example, you know, one of the respondents said to us well, I just became convinced based on all that I saw from my friends and family is that some of the rumored side effects were just not true. So we ended up getting the vaccine. Another woman told us; my husband bugged me to get it. And I just gave in. Another man said, the kind of a similar thing, I just wanted to shut my wife up. So I finally gave in. But you know, somebody else told us, you know, watching these family members and my friends who got vaccinated, they didn’t have any serious side effects. And I just realized that it was time for me to do it.
Molly Brodie 50:30
So that was the number one thing is that people who switch to became and really did get vaccinated, they told us it had something to do with their friends and their family and their real-life experiences. The second most important thing was conversations with their own doctors and health care providers. And we’ve been talking about this from the beginning about kind of the most trusted information source is people’s own providers. And so you know, one woman said to us, I was nervous about breastfeeding while getting vaccinated. But then I found out from my doctor was actually good, because the babies get the antibodies also. One, you know, man told us that he had discussed his spouse’s immune system challenges with his doctor. And that’s what ultimately convinced them.
Another person told us that it was his doctor told him that it was recommended he got the vaccine because he has diabetes. So I think, you know, in many cases, some of the advice or some of the strategies that people have been using over time to get people vaccinated and to help people learn what they need to learn, we’re finding that they actually did work. And so I think that’s really helpful.
Fascinating, it’s really great work. Well, wish me luck with Facebook.
Good luck, get some answers.
I’ll do my best. Thank you so much, once again, for educating us and informing us of all your great work, Molly.
And Andy, thank you for everything that you have been doing both inside and outside government, on the podcast with the book with all the work I know you’ve been doing behind the scenes. It is, you know, again, I think I said this at the end when we talked last time, the one thing that’s been really giving me hope is just watching all the Americans, all the people who are pulling together to try to really address the issues that the pandemic has laid bare.
Andy Slavitt 52:29
Okay, thank you, Molly Brodie, thank you for listening. Let me tell you what’s coming up on Wednesday, is the Big Show, The Big Show where I will be going face to face with Nick Clegg. Nick is the former deputy prime minister in the United Kingdom. He is the top executive next to Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg over at Facebook. And it is a really powerful show, where we will talk about how this massively influential platform deals with and handles all the misinformation we heard about today. And then next week, we have two amazing shows. As we talk about what’s going on across the globe.
To do that, I’m very pleased to tell you that we will have Albert Bourla, the CEO of Pfizer here to talk about all of the data, all of the things he’s seeing, all of the things developing in the vaccines, boosters, etc, from everywhere around the globe. And I don’t think Albert’s ever done a podcast before. So this is going to be absolutely riveting. That’s going to be alone with another show where we’re going to have kind of lay the land of what’s going on across the globe. Talk to people in Brazil, Italy, England. All kinds of fun. All right, we’ll talk to you Wednesday. Thanks.
Thanks for listening to IN THE BUBBLE. Hope you rate us highly. We’re a production of Lemonada Media. Kryssy Pease and Alex McOwen produced the show. Our mix is by Ivan Kuraev. Jessica Cordova Kramer and Stephanie Wittels Wachs still rule our lives and executive produced the show. And our theme was composed by Dan Molad and Oliver Hill, and additional music by Ivan Kuraev. You can find out more about our show on social media at @LemonadaMedia. And you can find me at @ASlavitt on Twitter or at @AndySlavitt on Instagram. If you like what you heard today, most importantly, please tell your friends to come listen and please stay safe, share some joy and we will get through this together.