Yale researchers work with UNICEF and Facebook to tackle vaccine misinformation
Researchers from the Yale Institute for Global Health have teamed up with UNICEF and Facebook to tackle misinformation in countries with low immunization rates.
Researchers from the Yale Institute for Global Health have worked with Facebook and the United Nations Children’s Fund, or UNICEF, to tackle misinformation about vaccines in low-income countries.
UNICEF, which oversees the project, first approached the University in 2020 to seek ways to help their regional offices and local health administrators deal with the global immunization situation. Yale Institute for Global Health director Saad Omer, who leads the Yale team working with the two institutions, saw the partnership as an opportunity to expand vaccine equity in countries where many people are hesitant. to receive COVID-19 vaccines.
“The idea is to work with UNICEF country offices and help them use social media for vaccine promotion and countering misinformation,” Omer said.
In the initial phase, Omer and his team looked at public data through Facebook posts and other social media platforms to explore and isolate the driving factors surrounding vaccine hesitancy. Once they had completed their research, they synthesized it and shared it with UNICEF country offices in a back-and-forth exchange to determine the best approach to developing campaigns targeting these factors and attitudes.
Next, they launched pilot campaigns in four countries to monitor attitude changes based on insights from Facebook data.
Omer found that “messages that speak to people’s values” were the most effective. The researchers concluded that it is not fruitful to try to change anyone’s values, but rather to find messages that align with them. For example, he noted that in India, one of the countries included in the study, vaccine promotion messages that represented national pride were particularly successful.
Currently, the project is in its national implementation phase. As with the pilot campaigns, Omer and his team are currently developing tools and evaluating messages in various trials around the world, including India, Kenya, Pakistan, Ukraine and the Philippines. They strive to carefully analyze the nuances of vaccine misinformation they have witnessed on social media.
“The COVID-19 situation and the vaccine situation are fluid in most countries where we work,” Omer said. “It forces us to be flexible in terms of crafting the message, evaluating the messages… in response to the situation in a given country at a given time.”
Sarah Christie, who is the project manager, started working on the partnership in February 2021. She manages the Yale team as well as the research, which is currently underway in five countries.
The researchers, she said, are made up of experts in a wide variety of fields, from political science and epidemiology to infectious disease and behavioral science.
Christie also noted that the diversity of expertise doesn’t stop at Yale. Through collaboration with UNICEF and Facebook, the team learned to address vaccine hesitancy in unique ways, she said.
“What we’re really learning from Facebook is how to evaluate those communications and how they’re performing…how a company might evaluate how their content is performing,” Christie said.
Christie noted that the Facebook team has provided integrated tools that the company offers to its own customers, which allow researchers to use digital marketing tools to understand the impact of communication content on health.
This project has helped shed light on the role that Yale and its health affiliates have played in the pandemic across the world.
Professor Howard Forman, another Yale expert on COVID-19 and public health, highlighted the critical work Yale is playing in the fight against the pandemic. He noted that the University, particularly the Yale School of Public Health, led and mobilized efforts in COVID-19 and vaccination early in the pandemic and continued to do so until day.
He added that Omer’s vaccine expertise, which existed before the COVID-19 crisis, has been substantial in “helping us globally think about ways to build confidence in vaccines and reduce vaccine hesitancy”.
The Yale Institute for Global Health was founded in 2018.