Report has revealed that only 12 people are responsible for 65% of anti-vaccine misinformation on social media platforms

The words “We’re not just fighting an epidemic; we’re fighting an infodemic too” by the World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus have found even more resonance in the recent report released by the Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH) on misinformation about Covid vaccines.

In the report titled “The Disinformation Dozen: Why platforms must act on twelve leading online anti-vaxxers”, researchers have found that just twelve people are responsible for the bulk of the misinformation about COVID-19 vaccines that proliferate social media. This new analysis of content posted or shared to social media over 812,000 times between February and March uncovers how this small group of determined anti-vaxxers is responsible for a tidal wave of disinformation - and shows how platforms can fix it by enforcing their standards.

According to CCDH chief executive officer, Imran Ahmed, a group of twelve anti-vaccine activists, alternative health entrepreneurs and physicians dubbed the 'Disinformation Dozen', produce 65% of the shares of anti-vaccine misinformation on social media platforms. “The claims from the "Disinformation Dozen" range from denying that COVID exists, claiming that false cures are in fact the way to solve COVID and not vaccination, decrying vaccines and decrying doctors as being in some way venal or motivated by other factors when they recommend vaccines," Ahmed said.

In 2019, even before the COVID-19 pandemic, the WHO identified vaccine hesitancy as one of the top 10 threats to global health. Now, evidence is emerging globally of vaccine hesitancy in relation to newly developed COVID-19 vaccines. Vaccine hesitancy has the potential to undermine vaccination efforts to bring the pandemic under control. In South Africa, although encouraging progress has been made in the rollout of COVID-19 vaccination to fast-track the return to normality, vaccine hesitancy poses a real challenge. That is why the SAMRC has been investigating the scale and determinants of vaccine hesitancy in the country, so that tailored and targeted strategies can be developed to address it. This would eventually enhance confidence in, and increase demand for, COVID-19 vaccination.

The SAMRC prides itself on our values, which includes integrity, and throughout the pandemic and before, many of our prioritised funding and research is aimed at providing accurate data on our various respective projects. A greater understanding of the situation and circumstances is afforded when we have accurate and reliable information, whether it is related to COVID-19 wastewater or genomic surveillance, estimates on diseases and deaths, thus allowing for the best plan to be devised and an informed action to be taken.

Also, Dr Janan Dietrich, a post-doctoral fellow within the SAMRC’s Health Systems Research, is leading a study investigating vaccine hesitancy amongst healthcare workers in South Africa.