Mark Alfano
Macquarie University
Marc Cheong
University of Melbourne
Ignacio Ojea Quintana
Australian National University
Trust in vaccination is eroding, and attitudes about vaccination have become more polarized. To shed light on the evolution of social media discourse about vaccines in the context of the COVID pandemic, we conducted an observational study of Twitter vaccine discourse 75 days prior to and after the World Health Organization’s 11 March 2020 pandemic declaration. We report four main findings. First, the amount of vaccine discourse greatly increased over the course of the pandemic. Second, the two existing vaccine-focused camps were joined by a massive influx of partisan American political accounts. Antivaxxers solidified alliances with Republicans, and Public Health organisations with Democrats, increasing interaction and signal boosting. We also detect a smaller community of Unorthodox users who are more ambivalent about vaccines; this community moves towards the political right after the declaration. Finally, the evolution of both the moral and the non-moral language used by these groups follows pre-existing patterns of trust, suggesting a trust-first model of political engagement.
Keywords social network  COVID-19  coronavirus  trust  vaccine hesitancy
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