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# I'm not afraid to get vaccinated. How do Ukrainian media influence coronavirus vaccination

02.02.2021, 18:02

Only 43% of Ukrainians are willing to get coronavirus vaccine, if the vaccine is free. It seems that Ukrainians have been indeed scared or at least disoriented by all these manipulations and fake news on vaccines which are spread in the media landscape. Vaccination has always been a sensitive topic for Ukrainians. Long before the covid, the fake news about measles or polio vaccination have been circulating in the media landscape. Every year, the topic of vaccination against seasonal strains of flu and "chip implanting against Bill Gates" gets a boost. Anti-vaccination communities are actively catching all sorts of junk, spreading manipulation and fake news, and people with low critical thinking believe it, because "that’s what they said." 

Most anti-vaccines followers are found among the middle age group (persons of 30-49 years old). This is evidenced by recent figures from the poll of the group "Rating". At the same time, a research study by the Internews Network showed that Ukrainians aged 18-45 are used to consume the news mainly from online media. So do the online media not sufficiently inform its target audience? Or there are some other obstacles? 

IMI experts have studied the impact the online media have on the catastrophic attitude of Ukrainians toward the vaccination.

Who and how wrote about vaccination?

During the monitoring period *, mass media that spoke the most often about vaccinations: Ukrinform - 9.4%, "Korrespondent" - 7.2%, NV and Channel 24 - 7.1% of the total number of news items. The least of pieces about vaccination was found on the sites : " Polyteka " (0.9%) and " Tyzhden " (0.5%). However, it should be noted that the "Tyzhden" website closed its newswire on December 31, 2020, so the number of its news items included in the monitoring has significantly decreased. 

21.6% of all vaccination news had some negative emotional dimension. That is, every fifth mention of the vaccine was : the news of deaths, allergies, complications due to vaccination, the materials of the ineffectiveness of certain vaccines and news with manipulative headlines. 

63.2% of vaccination news were written in a neutral tone. 

15.2% of the news had some positive emotional dimension.

Government communication 

Most often, official theses about vaccination were voiced by two Ukrainian officials, Health Minister Maksym Stepanov and Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba. These are the findings of the IMI monitoring study held in December 2020 - January 2021 in 20 online media *.

As for politicians, the most often the press was citing the politicians: MP from “Servants of the People” Mykhailo Radutsky, Yevheniya Kravchuk, MP from “Holos” Oleksandra Ustynova, and MPs from OPFL.

The Ministry of Health's messages about vaccination in mass media were clearly inconclusive. The news items could be found side by side in the same newswire saying that a mass coronavirus vaccination with European / US vaccines has started in the world, and immediately that Ukrainians expect the Chinese vaccine CoronaVac (Sinovas), which, according to the latest Brazilian research, has low efficiency :50.38%

Ukraine is going to purchase. The effectiveness of the Sinovac vaccine was below 60% - media / HB

Scientists have found out: effectiveness of COVID-vaccine Sinovac : 50.3% / Ukrinform

The effectiveness of the vaccine purchased by Ukraine Sinovac - not 78%, but 50.38% - Brazilian scientists / "Censor"

In response, Stepanov promised that if the Chinese vaccine was less than 70% efficacious, Ukraine would get its money back.

In addition to this, mass media revealed a tip from a MP Ustinov saying, the authorities thwarted  an agreement for purchase of "US vaccine, which now is bought worldwide: acting In a manual mode, Stepanov ordered to suspend this purchase ... at the same time, the minister ordered to purchase the vaccine at Chinese manufacturer, much more expensive and less efficient than the one Ukraine had to buy. "

Ustinov on Sinovac vaccine: Stepanov chose an expensive and ineffective vaccine / "Censor.NET"

MP Ustinova said that the Ministry of Health thwarted purchase of vaccine against COVID-19, which is six times cheaper than the Chinese one. The department responded / "Gordon"

In this aspect, the pro-Russian mass media 112.ua and "Strana" emphasized that the authorities "knocked dcown vaccination of Ukrainians" and no resuscitation will work anymore. And no matter what new options could be offered by government, US vaccines Pfizer, Moderna, or British Astra, the only solution could be Russian Sputnik V vaccine, which Medvedchuk had previously agreed with Russia:

Suchkov: The government discredits the Sputnik V vaccine in the interests of US multinational companies / 112.ua 

At the same time, Foreign Minister Kuleba criticized the Russian vaccine not only for its medical ineffectiveness, but also for propaganda of vaccination with the Russian vaccine in Ukraine:

Kuleba: Propaganda options for Russian vaccine Sputnik V far exceed its real efficiency / "Gordon"

Propaganda capabilities of Russian Sputnik vaccine exceed real ones - Kuleba / LIGA.net

War of vaccines in online media. Who won?

In the leading Ukrainian media *, the vaccination against Covid-19 was one of the most top themes for several weeks. According to the WHO, mass vaccination is the only option for all of us to get back our "quiet life". 

During the monitoring period, the following vaccines were mentioned the most: US-German Pfizer / Biontech  43.8%, Chinese-made CoronaVac (Sinovas) - 21.4%, slightly less they spoke of the Russian vaccine Sputnik V - 14.4%,  US Moderna 11.2% and the British Astra 6.4% 

So, we will get into what Ukrainian media wrote about these vaccines.

What was said about the US-German vaccine Pfizer / Biontech? 

About this vaccine they wrote the most often. Typically, mentions of Pfizer were neutral : 65.4%. This news had factual information about the delivery or start of vaccination in different countries.

15.8% of the pieces on Pfizer had a positive emotional dimension. Most of these news were recorded on Censor, Ukrayinska Pravda and Ukrinform, and they wereabout the effectiveness of vaccine:

Pfizer guarantees efficiency if the second vaccination is made no later than in three weeks / Ukrinform

Germany launches largest vaccination campaign in its history / Ukrinform

Coronavirus mutation: COVID-19 vaccine is effective against new coronavirus strain / "Censor"

At the same time, 18.8% of mentions of this vaccine had a negative connotation. Interestingly, the most of negatory about Pfizer was found in news of "Strana": almost every fifth news item. This is due to the pro-Russian editorial line that promoted the Russian Sputnik V vaccine. 

However, in other media the news about Pfizer looked like an apple of discord. Mass media reported that world leaders had been vaccinated in public and called on their citizens to take vaccine as soon as possible, as this was the only way to stop the pandemic. And some news after the call for vaccination, there could be a news speaking of some negative cases of Pfizer vaccination, for example, in Norway, "deaths after vaccination", in Israel, where "people have facial paralysis." At the same time, for example, only in the first phrases in the news about the "facial hemiplegia" you read that it was only a slight numbness that passed in 48 hours. 

In Norway, 23 people vaccinated against Covid-19 with the Pfizer vaccine died/ 112.ua

Norway is concerned: almost 30 elderly people died there after vaccination / Ukrinform

After the Pfizer vaccine, mass deaths occured in Europe. What's going on? / "Strana"

Facial hemiplegia in Israel after Pfizer vaccinations - world news / "Segodnya"

In Israel, 13 people developed facial hemiplegia after being vaccinated by Pfizer / Korrespondent.net

After vaccination: 13 Israelis paralyzed face due to vaccination against COVID-19 /24 channel

Due to vaccination, after vaccination, no one tried to understand it. For the most part, these cases showed signs of outright manipulation or half-truth. 

What was said about the Chinese vaccine CoronaVac (Sinovas)?

In the media landscape, the news about CoronaVac was high on the agenda only because the authorities announced they would going to purchase this vaccine for Ukrainians. A significant part of the news related to this vaccine had a neutral emotional color: 69.1%. Only 6.4% of the news mentioning the CoronaVac were positive.

At the same time, a significant share of mentions of CoronaVac had a negative emotional dimension: 24.5%. Mostly negative mentions were found in the stories about a new study on the effectiveness of the vaccine:

Efficacy of Sinovac vaccine bought by Ukraine less than 60% - research study / Ukrainian Pravda 

Chinese CoronaVac coronavirus vaccine less than 60% effective / Strana

The efficacy of the Sinovac coronavirus vaccine was 50.38% / 112 

In mass media, besides the study on the "questionable effectiveness of the vaccine", there were also some negative news saying that Georgia refused the "Chinese vaccine":

Not reliable. Georgia "formally does not consider" to get supplies of Chinese vaccine from COVID-19 / HB

At the same time, journalists abused with an excessive use of the phrase "Chinese vaccine" in the headlines. For example, the origin and place of registration were not mentioned in the news about other vaccines or pharmaceutical companies. In retrospect, we would like to remind you that in the first months when coronavirus has only emerged, the pro / Russian news websites used words "Chinese virus" to designate Covid-19thus manipulating and forming a negative pattern about everything Chinese in the reader’s heads. So the experts have a well-founded fears that the Ukrainian mass media were deliberately playing with the emotions of the audience when writing the "Chinese vaccine".

In addition, it should be noted that the Ukrainian mass media did not always write the name of the vaccine correctly. For example, the CoronaVac vaccine of the Chinese pharmaceutical company Sinovas is named after the company name, not after the name of the active substance itself. 

What was said about the Russian vaccine Sputnik V?

"A vaccine is like an art, it has no nationality" - such messages were heard in blitz polls launched by pro-Russian media workers. Employees of Medvedchuk's channels made a tour of Ukrainian cities and asked Ukrainians if they were vaccinated with the Russian vaccine; what they will choose: death or the Russian vaccine; better Chinese vaccine or still fraternal Russian one. 

At the same time, these news did not present the opposite opinion of other respondents. These were warm, complementary to the Russian vaccine news, which voiced an idea that the authorities had once again abandoned the Ukrainians to their fate, so people from all over Ukraine were ready to be vaccinated with Russian brotherly vaccines.

IMI experts have been recording such news to promote the Russian vaccine since the fall of 2020, when Medvedchuk came to Putin and made his family vaccinated. Then, the leader of the OPFL said that the only possibility to save the Ukrainians was to immediately vaccinate everyone with the Russian Sputnik, because the "government" (…) is in a stupor, and Medvedchuk saves the Ukrainians." Such positive references to "Sputnik" were seen in 21% of the news. During the monitoring period, such an information support was provided by pro-Russian sites : 112.ua and Strana.ua.

At the same time, 46% of the news about the Russian Sputnik V vaccine had a negative emotional color. The most negative mentions were seen in the following media: " Censor", "Obozrevatel" and The 24th Channel. These news spoke of statement of Minister of Foreign Affairs Kuleba saying that the Russian vaccine was equal to propaganda and it threatened Ukrainians.

What was said about the US vaccine Moderna?

Most often the mass media spoke about Moderna in a neutral tone: 69.7%. These were the news about the start of vaccination across the world, as well as news where they mentioned other vaccines.

At the same time, 17.4% of the news where Moderna vaccination was mentioned had a negative aspect. This was due to the fact that in the United States were actively vaccinating its medical staff and after vaccination, one doctor had an allergic reaction. 

The first allergic reaction to the Moderna  vaccine was recorded in the United States/ Interfax 

The first allergic reaction to the Moderna vaccine was recorded in the United States / "Censor"

The first severe allergic reaction to the Moderna  vaccine was detected in the United States/ Ukrinform 

However, such materials lack the background that allergic reactions can occur, but a small percentage of patients are at risk. So some isolated cases are not a reason to refuse from being vaccinated. Journalists need to make such news more insightful and informative.

12.9% of Moderna vaccination news were positive. Most often, they were saying that Moderna expected its vaccine to protect against a new strain of the Covid mutation.  

What was said about the British Astra vaccine?

In fact, all mass media that were included in the monitoring wrote about this vaccine at least once in a positive way. Thus, 21% of the news that mentioned the Astra had a positive aspect. Most often, these news concerned the effectiveness of this vaccine:

AstraZeneca announces maximum effectiveness of its vaccine against COVID-19 / Suspilne (Public broadcaster)

The UK started to test drug that should instantly build immunity to COVID-19 / "Gordon"

The main tone of the news about this vaccine had been neutral one: 75.8%. Mentions of the Astra usually were seen in news speaking of vaccination of people, or in the news on vaccination in general. At the same time, only “Strana” website mentioned the Astra in a negative context : 3.2%.

Insightful news

The insightfull journalism is first and foremost a decision-making and social responsibility journalism that does not focus on the negativity. The share of insightful news from the whole number of analyzed news was 19.3% . Most of the constructive news about vaccination were seen on the website of The 24th Channel, Ukrayinska Pravda and Suspilne (Public broadcaster). For the most part, these news had some detailed information about beginning and plan of vaccination in Ukraine and around the world:

Where in Ukraine the vaccine against COVID-19 is to appear first The 24th Channel

The Ministry of Health plans to vaccinate half of the population of Ukraine: there are 4 stages / 24 channel

Who in Ukraine will be the first to get vaccine against COVID-19. The Ministry of Health named 9 groups / "Ukrainska Pravda"  

Prices, side effects and scandals. All about vaccines from COVID-19 in Ukraine and the world / "Ukrainian Truth"  

Genetic vaccine against COVID-19: safety, side effects and why Ukraine may not get it / "Ukrainian Truth"  

💉 What is the visual content for vaccination news?

For the most part, the editors use some occasional stock images to illustrate the story. However, usually these photos are not real and do not convey the accuracy of the whole procedure. IMI experts noticed the following mistakes when using stock photos in vaccination news items:

-Most often, these are staged photos where the person uncorrectly holds the syring.

-One of the triggers is a big picture of a needle or a syringe. Such images can cause fear or discomfort in people.

-Stock photos often depict children in tears and patients with anxious expressions. 

Every fifth news item about vaccination in Ukrainian online editions (20.1%) came out with a vaccination image, which could cause some negative emotional reaction of the audience. These are the results of the IMI monitoring study conducted in December 2020 - January 2021 in 20 online media *.

IMI research showed that in the Ukrainian mass media every third material (34.1%) had an abstract stock image related to some medical issue. There were images of vaccine ampoules, logos of vaccine companies, syringes, doctors, children and hands in medical gloves. 

3.2% of the news items had some images of people with sad, frightened or anxious facial expressions. Only in isolated cases in vaccination news showed people smiling or show a "Cool!" gesture with their hands. Almost every fifth news item ( 18%) had images of a medical syringe or injecting fluid from the ampoule into the syringe. In this case, the pictures are to set up eventual patients for pain from vaccination.

 In 2019 the magazine Self together with the American Academy of Pediatrics established a collaboration project and uploaded to cloud stock photos of positive and neutral mood of patients, thus helping the mass media to use appropriate images that are medically accurate and present vaccination positively.

How do journalists must cover the vaccination topic? 

IMI has prepared recommendations on how to properly cover vaccinations. You can read them at the link .

Conclusion

Ukrainians' quarantine sentiments are volatile: in almost a year of "coronavirus life," they have started to follow less the covid news, and at the same time, Ukrainians have became less anxious as to their own eventual illness or the illness of a family member. 

The only option to overcome the coronavirus and return to the previous more or less stable life. So, it is necessary to vaccinate the majority of the population to create collective immunity. At the same time, it is extremely important to continue to follow every safety rules: social distancing, face masks outside, using antiseptics. 

Well, journalists should remember their responsibility. They form the perception of their audience of important topics, in particular the topic of vaccination. 

* Monitoring analysis was conducted using customized Google Advanced Search queries and IMI's internal monitoring work from December 21-27, 2020 and January 11-17, 2021 in 20 national online media (eleven top-rated, seven media that signed the memorandum to the Media standards, as well as two sites that have expressed a desire to be on the list of media subject to the monitoring): obozrevatel.com, korrespondent.net segodnya.ua, 24tv.ua, tsn.ua, strana.ua, pravda.com.ua, politeka .net, rbc.ua, 112.ua, gordonua.com, nv.ua (М), liga.net (М), ukrinform.ua (М), zn.ua (М), censor.net.ua ), tyzhden.ua (M), interfax.com.ua (M), suspilne.media (M), bykvu.com (M). The total sample was 1073 materials.

This study was made possible by the support of the American people through the USAID Media Program in Ukraine project, implemented by the international organization Internews Network. The contents are the sole responsibility of the Institute of Mass Information and do not necessarily reflect the views of USAID, the US Government or the Internews Network.               

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