Doctors fully trust the vaccines. People do not know that

08. 12. 2022

The empirical data of a team of Czech researchers shows that a large part of the public has misconceptions about doctors' views on COVID-19 vaccination. Although the vast majority of physicians trust and support the vaccines, there is a common belief among the public that doctors' opinions are split roughly 50–50. Informing the public of the broad consensus of the doctors' opinions has persistently increased vaccination rates and has played an important role in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. The research findings were published by one of the world's most prestigious scientific journals, Nature.

The authors of the study, working at CERGE-EI (a joint workplace of Charles University and the Economics Institute of the CAS), the Institute of Economic Studies at the Faculty of Social Sciences of Charles University, the University of Munich, and the Max Planck Institute in Munich, conducted extensive questionnaire surveys. These focused firstly on the views of the medical community on vaccination and secondly on the public's awareness of these views of doctors. The authors then examined the impact of providing information about the actual stances of doctors on the decision of individuals from the general public to get vaccinated.

"We found out that informing the public of the broad consensus of opinion about the benefits of vaccination among physicians is a non-expensive and long-term way of increasing interest in vaccination," summarizes Michal Bauer, the co-author of the study.

The first of these questionnaire surveys was conducted in February 2021 among Czech physicians from all parts of the country. It focused on the doctors' views on the approved vaccines. Of the 10,000 doctors who took part in the opinion poll, 89% trusted the vaccines. At the same time, 90% of them had already been vaccinated or were planning to do so. Up to 96% of doctors would recommend vaccination to their healthy patients.

However, most of the public was unaware of this consensus of the medical community. This was revealed by a second survey conducted by the PAQ Research's Life during the Pandemic survey, which involved 2,101 respondents. Respondents estimated the percentage of doctors who trust the vaccines and intend to be vaccinated. About 90% of them underestimated the level of support for vaccination within the medical community. On average, people supposed that only 60% of doctors trusted the approved vaccines and that only 57% of doctors intended to get vaccinated.

Then, in March 2021, a randomly selected half of the respondents were given correct information about opinions among doctors on vaccinations, i.e., that 90% of them trust the vaccines and want to get vaccinated. The other half of the respondents did not receive this information. This allowed the researchers to plausibly estimate the role which the knowledge of the true views of the medical community plays in the willingness to get vaccinated. Over the following 9 months, the researchers actually observed whether the respondents got vaccinated or not.

It turns out that the provided information not only corrected biased assumptions about the doctors' views on vaccination but it also increased the vaccine uptake by 4.5 percentage points. Thus, the percentage of people who chose not to get vaccinated decreased by a full 20%.

"The impact on the vaccination rates has been stable and persistent. Even a one-time provision of information increased the vaccination coverage for at least 9 months and also contributed to the increased interest in a third dose," says the study co-author Julie Chytilová.

The authors of the study agree that the public's misperceptions about the views of the medical community are likely due to the efforts of some media outlets to convey opposing views on controversial topics. Providing a similar space for opposing currents of opinion attracts the attention of the audience and creates an impression of objectivity on the journalists' part. However, this practice can create a misperception in society regarding the degree of disagreement among experts and undermine its ability to face broader social challenges.

"Journalists should therefore strive to provide information not only about differences of opinion among experts, but also about the degree of consensus among the general professional public," Chytilová says. "This problem, in which misperceptions of expert disunity undermine the ability to address global challenges, is very likely to apply to many other areas, such as the climate change debates," Bauer adds. The results of this study are thus likely to overlap with a number of other areas, and the current pandemic is just one example of a much more general phenomenon.

The Czech Academy of Sciences (the CAS)

The mission of the CAS

The primary mission of the CAS is to conduct research in a broad spectrum of natural, technical and social sciences as well as humanities. This research aims to advance progress of scientific knowledge at the international level, considering, however, the specific needs of the Czech society and the national culture.

President of the CAS

Prof. Eva Zažímalová has started her second term of office in May 2021. She is a respected scientist, and a Professor of Plant Anatomy and Physiology.

She is also a part of GCSA of the EU.