Information on vaccination support by the vast majority of doctors increases the public's willingness to vaccinate by four percentage points
Here is a description of the study, which appeared in Nature, edited by Vojtěch Bartoš (Università degli Studi di Milano), Michal Bauer (CERGE-EI e IES FSV UK), Jana Cahlíková (Istituto Max Planck di Monaco), Julie Chytilová (CERGE-EI e IES FSV UK)
Summary of research results
A large share of the population is reluctant to vaccinate against Covid-19. This has major health and economic consequences. A key challenge is to identify the causes of this hesitance and to find the cheapest ways of increasing vaccination take-up. In our research, we focus on the role of public misconceptions about the views of medical doctors, an influential expert group, in vaccination take-up decisions. In the pursuit of objectivity, media tends to give a similar amount of air space to both experts who support vaccination and to skeptical voices. This is called false-balance reporting. The public may then mistakenly believe that no consensus exists in the expert community when in fact this is not the case. People who were provided with information about the actual opinions of doctors in this study were more likely to get vaccinated.
Consensus among doctors
In January 2021, we organized an extensive survey among Czech medical doctors in cooperation with the Czech Medical Chamber. Every Czech medical doctor is obliged by law to be a member of the CMC. We asked the doctors about their views on approved Covid-19 vaccines. Almost 10,000 doctors responded.
The results show a strong consensus: 90% of doctors trust the vaccines (2% do not trust), 90% of doctors already have or plan to be vaccinated (4% do not want to be vaccinated) and 95% of doctors would recommend vaccination to their healthy patients. These views are very similar across age, experience, and geographical location of doctors’ offices. Administrative vaccination data among medical doctors from late 2021 support the results.
Misconceptions of the public about the opinion of doctors
In February 2021, a sample of 2,101 adult respondents (longitudinal study “Life during the pandemic”) estimated the share of doctors who trust the approved vaccines and what percentage of doctors intends to be vaccinated.
90% of respondents underestimate the level of doctors’ vaccination support. On average, respondents think that only 57% of doctors want to be vaccinated and that 60% of doctors trust the approved vaccines.
Respondents thus mistakenly believe that doctors' opinions are polarized.
Information about doctors' opinions increases vaccination rates
A randomly selected half of the respondents from the Life during the pandemic study (1,050 respondents) received information on the actual views of doctors in March 2021. We provided the information in the form of a short summary integrated in an online survey. The other half of the respondents (1,051 people) did not receive this information.
Over the next nine months, we repeatedly asked the respondents from both groups whether they wanted to be vaccinated and whether they had already been vaccinated.
The information provided leads to: (i) a long-lasting increase in demand for vaccination and (ii) a higher rate of actual vaccination take-up (by 4 percentage points) at a time when vaccination has become available to the general population. More than six months after the information was provided, the group that received the information was also more likely to have been vaccinated with a second dose and expressed higher demand for a third, booster dose.
An information campaign about consensus among medical doctors is a cheap and lasting way to increase public demand for vaccination.
By collecting data among their members, professional associations can help combat misperceptions about the polarization of medical doctors' views on controversial topics.
The journalistic practice of providing similar air time to opposing opinions on controversial and complex topics can have significant negative health and social impacts. Journalists should try to provide information on the prevalence of opinions among experts.