Researchers say belief in conspiracy theories is an obstacle to controlling the spread of COVID-19

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TORONTO – As scientists around the world try to create a vaccine for the novel coronavirus, some researchers are predicting that belief in conspiracy theories could hinder adoption of a safe vaccine once it becomes public. A new study published today in the journal Social Sciences and Medicine found that COVID-19 conspiracy theories were persistent from March through July and are associated with reluctance to engage in preventative behaviors, such as wearing masks and vaccination in the future.

“Belief in pandemic conspiracy theories appears to be a barrier to reducing the spread of COVID-19,” Dan Romer, research director at the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania said in a statement.

“To control the pandemic, we need high rates of mask wear, physical distancing and hand washing now – and vaccination when a safe and effective vaccine is available. ”

Researchers found that the most common COVID-19-related conspiracies were linked to three main issues: the perceived threat of the pandemic, taking preventative measures (such as wearing masks), and vaccine safety.

Based on a survey of 840 U.S. adults, researchers found that 28% of survey participants said they believed in March that the Chinese government created the coronavirus as a biological weapon. By July, the number of people who believed the conspiracy theory had risen to 37%. The study also found that nearly one in seven participants believed the pharmaceutical industry created the virus to increase the sale of drugs and vaccines.

In an April 30 White House briefing, US President Donald Trump promoted the idea that COVID-19 accidentally escaped from a laboratory in Wuhan, China. Experts said there was no evidence to support this claim and Chinese officials vehemently berated the claim.

The researchers say they were able to predict the use of face masks among the participants based on political ideology and “reliance on conservative media,” but when it comes to vaccinations, there has been a wide range. of responses, indicating that vaccines are more of a bipartisan concern.

Believers in COVID-19 conspiracies were also more likely to have doubts about the safety of the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine.

“Conspiracy theories are difficult to move because they provide explanations for events that are not fully understood, such as the current pandemic, play on people’s mistrust of government and other powerful actors, and involve accusations that cannot be easily verified, ”co-researcher Kathleen Hall Jamieson said in a statement.

The study suggests that those who didn’t believe in conspiracies were 1.5 times more likely to wear a face mask every day outside the home when in contact with others compared to those who believed most firmly to conspiracies.

Researchers say that countering the effects of conspiratorial beliefs will require persistent public health campaigns and straightforward messages, especially on the platforms where COVID-related conspiracies have flourished.

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