Background: On January 30, 2020, the World Health Organization's Emergency Committee declared the rapid, worldwide spread of COVID-19 a global health emergency. Since then, tireless efforts have been made to mitigate the spread of the disease and its impact, and these efforts have mostly relied on nonpharmaceutical interventions. By December 2020, the safety and efficacy of the first COVID-19 vaccines were demonstrated. The large social media platform Twitter has been used by medical researchers for the analysis of important public health topics, such as the public's perception on antibiotic use and misuse and human papillomavirus vaccination. The analysis of Twitter-generated data can be further facilitated by using Twitter's built-in, anonymous polling tool to gain insight into public health issues and obtain rapid feedback on an international scale. During the fast-paced course of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Twitter polling system has provided a viable method for gaining rapid, large-scale, international public health insights on highly relevant and timely SARS-CoV-2-related topics.
Objective: The purpose of this study was to understand the public's perception on the safety and acceptance of COVID-19 vaccines in real time by using Twitter polls.
Methods: We developed 2 Twitter polls to explore the public's views on available COVID-19 vaccines. The surveys were pinned to the Digital Health and Patient Safety Platform Twitter timeline for 1 week in mid-February 2021, and Twitter users and influencers were asked to participate in and retweet the polls to reach the largest possible audience.
Results: The adequacy of COVID-19 vaccine safety (ie, the safety of currently available vaccines; poll 1) was agreed upon by 1579 out of 3439 (45.9%) Twitter users. In contrast, almost as many Twitter users (1434/3439, 41.7%) were unsure about the safety of COVID-19 vaccines. Only 5.2% (179/3439) of Twitter users rated the available COVID-19 vaccines as generally unsafe. Poll 2, which addressed the question of whether users would undergo vaccination, was answered affirmatively by 82.8% (2862/3457) of Twitter users, and only 8% (277/3457) categorically rejected vaccination at the time of polling.
Conclusions: In contrast to the perceived high level of uncertainty about the safety of the available COVID-19 vaccines, we observed an elevated willingness to undergo vaccination among our study sample. Since people's perceptions and views are strongly influenced by social media, the snapshots provided by these media platforms represent a static image of a moving target. Thus, the results of this study need to be followed up by long-term surveys to maintain their validity. This is especially relevant due to the circumstances of the fast-paced pandemic and the need to not miss sudden rises in the incidence of vaccine hesitancy, which may have detrimental effects on the pandemic's course.
Keywords: COVID-19; SARS-CoV-2; Twitter; concern; coronavirus; hesitancy; opinion; perception; public health; safety; social media; survey; vaccination; vaccination hesitancy; vaccination willingness; vaccine; vaccine confidence; willingness.
©Fabian Eibensteiner, Valentin Ritschl, Faisal A Nawaz, Sajjad S Fazel, Christos Tsagkaris, Stefan Tino Kulnik, Rik Crutzen, Elisabeth Klager, Sabine Völkl-Kernstock, Eva Schaden, Maria Kletecka-Pulker, Harald Willschke, Atanas G Atanasov. Originally published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research (https://www.jmir.org), 29.04.2021.