Researchers from the Center for Psychological Research and Social Intervention (CIS-Iscte) published a study on the COVID-19 vaccination acceptance and conspiracy beliefs in Portugal in the International Journal of Communication. They found that people who perceived the Portuguese government’s communication about COVID-19 as having higher quality were less likely to believe in conspiracy theories and in turn would be more likely to accept vaccines.
Note: This article was also publish in Portuguese in Associação Portuguesa de Imprensa and among several regional media:
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According to Melanie Vauclair, a researcher at CIS-Iscte and first author of this study, “many studies have positively associated covid-19 vaccine acceptance with different variables, such as higher educational attainment or higher socioeconomic status”. More importantly, the researcher adds that “vaccination hesitancy has been associated with beliefs in conspiracy theories and a lack of trust in governments and institutions”.
Extending research on these data, Melanie Vauclair and Elena Piccinelli, a doctoral candidate at Iscte-University Institute of Lisbon, explored the critical role of perceived government communication about the Covid-19 pandemic in the prediction of vaccine acceptance and whether this link was mediated by both conspiracy beliefs and trust in government.
A sample of 377 participants from Portugal was surveyed on their general covid-19 vaccine acceptance, Sinovac (a Chinese-developed vaccine) acceptance, conspiracy beliefs, trust in the Portuguese government, and trust in the Chinese government, the quality of communication, and their stereotypes of Chinese. Several sociodemographic data were also collected.
The results from this study show that higher quality of communication predicted higher trust in the Portuguese government and general vaccine acceptance. People who perceived the Portuguese government’s communication about COVID-19 as having higher quality were less likely to believe in conspiracy theories and, in turn, would be more likely to accept vaccines. However, believing in conspiracy theories did not predict trust in the government, and higher levels of trust in the government did not predict general vaccine acceptance. Elena Piccinelli explains the impact of these results: “Governments that invest in a clear and coherent communication about the pandemic may be able to counteract the surge of conspiracy beliefs, which in turn may help to increase vaccine acceptance”.
Additionally, people who had more stereotypes about Chinese were more likely to believe in conspiracy theories and, in turn, trust less in the Chinese government and be less open to accepting the Sinovac vaccine. Higher stereotypes about the Chinese were also directly linked with less Sinovac acceptance and less trust in the Chinese government. Finally, higher levels of trust in the Chinese government predicted higher Sinovac acceptance. “Our study suggests that national stereotypes might feed into conspiracy theories”, Elena says. The researcher further explains that “considering the role of different sociopsychological variables is important to vaccine acceptance”, but notes that such influences should be examined experimentally in future research.
The study was conducted in Portugal between March and April 2021, within a national lockdown, when people relied mostly on the news to know more about the pandemic and government actions. The authors reflect that “in hindsight, Portugal is in a better position than many other member states of the European Union, and the question is whether this could inform governance in other countries”. According to the website ourworldindata.org, Portugal has one of the highest rates of vaccination worldwide and the highest in Europe.