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What social media trends reveal about COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy

Last Updated May 9, 2021 at 9:40 pm MDT

CALGARY (660 NEWS) — As more Canadians become eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine, many are jumping at the chance to get their shot. But others aren’t so sure.

Also a political science professor at the University of Calgary, Jean-Christophe Boucher has been analyzing social media data for trends surrounding the vaccine as part of his work with the COVID-19 coalition, 19 to Zero.

CityNews’ Jo Horwood spoke to Boucher to understand more about what’s making people uncertain, and who’s most likely to hold off.

What are the factors at play when it comes to vaccine hesitancy?

“The COVID-19 pandemic actually overlapped on a deep polarization that we’re seeing across North America but also democracies around the world, and much of the crisis basically took hold on this kind of polarization. So, one of the strongest predictors now of vaccine hesitancy is actually mistrust in institutions.

“Mistrust in institutions is really almost 50-60 per cent of what drives people’s perception of the vaccine, and then another 20 per cent is vaccine safety, people who are afraid of the vaccine, especially with the AstraZeneca problems. there have been missteps from health authorities in communicating what to do with vaccination and that kind of increases resistance to vaccination. And that’s pretty much it, much of the conversation, much of the fears, much of the anger and concern that we’re seeing in the vaccine-hesitant space is really a political question more so than a question of the vaccine.”

Have you noticed any differences between age groups or demographics?

“Two things: first, usually younger Canadians are more hesitant to get vaccinated, they don’t see the point — and usually, young males are more hesitant than females. In the grand scheme of things, something like 21 per cent of young males are saying they’re not going to get vaccinated, which is a significant proportion of Canadians.

“Lastly what we find is that conservative voters, on average, are less likely to want to get vaccinated than voters of the Liberals or the NDP. So, there is a strong connection between political affiliation and the decision to get vaccinated, and that links back to the heart of mistrust in institutions. Right now, what we’re seeing in the data, is that a lot of people blame the Trudeau government for imposing measures and for making a crisis out of nothing, and much of the criticism we see is really on the notion that governments are using the crisis as a way to curtail freedom.”

Was there anything that surprised you doing this research?

“How much social trust and political trust was part of the equation. In the grand scheme of things, I kind of underestimated how much all of this is really a political problem and that COVID-19 is not really a health issue as it’s really a political issue, and how to get out of this, we’ll need political solutions.”