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June 28, 2024

Frequent social media users are more likely to get vaccinated regardless of political party, Penn study finds

The reasons that spur Democrats and Republicans to get COVID-19 shots differ, but the study's findings suggest that tailored online messages can boost inoculation rates.

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Social media vaccines Steve Heaslip/Cape Cod Times / USA TODAY NETWORK

New research from Penn's Annenberg Public Policy Center bucks common perceptions that social media has a negative effect on vaccination rates.

Though social media is often associated with misinformation about vaccines, a new study links greater social media use to a higher likelihood of getting vaccinated against COVID-19 and influenza — regardless of political affiliation.

Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania observed this trend among Democrats and Republicans, though their motives for getting vaccinated were different. Democrats were more likely to get inoculated because they encountered information about new COVID-19 pathogens. Republicans were more likely to get vaccinated, because social media convinced them people important to them got the recommended vaccines. The researchers said this information may bolster future health and social media campaigns and improve vaccination rates.

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"Future public health campaigns on social media have the potential to improve health outcomes if they use strategies informed by research into how social media influence members of different groups," said lead author Stephanie DeMora, a postdoctoral fellow at Penn's Annenberg Public Policy Center.

The Penn researchers said they undertook the study because the link between social media use and vaccination rates has been "difficult to study" and "not been properly tested," despite a widespread perception that social media has a negative effect on vaccination rates.

The researchers cited news reports on misinformation campaigns like #diedsuddenly, a widely debunked claim that people were dying unexpectedly after receiving the COVID-19 vaccine. (A later movie with the same name featured numerous people who were still alive.) 

Similarly, social media's deleterious effects on mental health also have been a matter of concern among health professionals for years. Earlier this month, U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy suggested social media platforms carry a warning label similar to the one on cigarettes.

The Penn team concluded that social media has the potential to boost vaccinations, if the message is tailored to its audience. 

Over 10 months, the researchers surveyed 1,768 Americans about how they use social media for information, and whether they had recently received a COVID-19 or flu vaccine. Respondents were 18 to 99, and identified as Democrats (35.1%), Republicans (30.2%) or Independents (28.5%) in roughly equal measures. Since the trend held across all major party affiliations, the researchers concluded, social media 

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