A new study finds a lot of Americans believe COVID vaccine myths that have been proven false. People who think they know a lot about the vaccines are more likely to hold misperceptions than others.

According to Katherine Ognyanova, an associate professor of communication at the Rutgers University School of Communication and Information, the COVID States Project survey found 37% of Americans who believe multiple false claims thought they were very knowledgeable about vaccines, compared to 16% of those who held no misperceptions.

She said people were asked about four false stories that have spread online: COVID vaccines alter people’s DNA, they contain microchips that can track you, they contain lung tissue from aborted fetuses and they can cause infertility.

About 16% of people believe at least one of those are true. About 46% were not sure about at least one of those statements.

The survey found 5% of respondents thought vaccines contained microchips, 7% said vaccines used aborted fetal cells, 8% believed vaccines could alter human DNA and 10% were concerned that vaccines could cause infertility.

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Why do people believe COVID misinformation?

Ognyanova was most surprised by a third of the people who believe in a false statement also acknowledged that the world’s leading medical experts and scientists had debunked those claims.

The survey also found 21% of respondents indicated they knew the claims were false but were still not sure.

She said previous research has shown uncertainty about the vaccines has led many to be hesitant about getting the shots.

Ognyanova said the study also looked at how beliefs have changed since the vaccines were introduced a little over a year ago, and researchers found at the start of 2021 people who had graduate degrees and those with high income were likely to believe false vaccines statements. Today, however, they are the least likely to believe misinformation.

“For people who had low income, low education, they registered almost no change in their beliefs," she said.

Groups most likely to believe false statements

The study looked at which groups were most likely to believe false vaccine information claims and they included those between the ages of 25 and 44, parents of children under 18, Republican voters and those with less than a college degree.

More than 20% of each of those groups believed some of the false vaccine statements.

“The more people trust the government, the media, science, the more likely they are to disbelieve misinformation about vaccines and the more likely they are to get vaccinated," Ognyanova sai.

People who don’t trust government, don’t believe the medical system and the media, “those people are also more likely to hold misconceptions about COVID vaccines and those people are also more likely to be vaccine resistant.”

The COVID States Project is a joint project of the School of Communication and Information at Rutgers University-New Brunswick, the Network Science Institute of Northeastern University, the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy of Harvard University, Harvard Medical School and the Department of Political Science and Institute for Policy Research at Northwestern University.

David Matthau is a reporter for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach him at david.matthau@townsquaremedia.com

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