Vaccine Hesitancy Communication during a Global Pandemic: A Case Study of Vaccination Hesitant Facebook Pages during the 2020 COVID-19 Pandemic

Author: Samantha Fowler – Laurentian University, Canada


  • Chantal Barriault – Laurentian University, Canada
  • Paulo Monteiro – Instituto Butantan, Brazil

The COVID-19 global pandemic creates a unique environment for vaccination hesitant messages, within which traditionally vaccine-focussed Facebook pages are used to promote diverse anti-science messaging. Understanding these communities, their messages, and their tactics is vital to producing effective science communication and combatting anti-science ideas that can threaten global health, including currently declining vaccination rates. The complex political and societal influences of the global pandemic further combine with the critical role social media platforms, like Facebook, play in spreading health beliefs. The research explores the posts and comments shared on two prominent, public, North American vaccination hesitant Facebook pages (Vaccine Facts -14,231 followers and Vaccine Choice Canada – 14,187 followers) during the beginning of the COVID-19 global pandemic from March 1 to May 31, 2020 (443 posts and 6109 comments). This research uses a qualitative, semi-emergent design to organize both posts and comments by discussion topic and style. Using an adapted Health Belief Model framework, researchers added additional constructs to provide a snapshot of vaccination hesitant beliefs, including constructs of perceived lack of authority and the use of community-building tactics. Research findings included a description of how the perceived safe spaces provided by these Facebook communities support diverse anti-science beliefs, including anti-mask and anti-physical distancing beliefs. This study also showed that these groups are toxic and violent environments that do not allow for dialogue or differing opinions. This study builds a necessary audience understanding that can inform future science communication initiatives. Vaccines are a critical current and future study that aligns with the conference’s theme of “time”.

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Presentation type: Individual paper
Theme: Time