SINGAPORE - Close to one in four residents polled in Singapore believe a false claim that Covid-19 vaccines alter DNA, according to a survey by the Nanyang Technological University (NTU).
Older respondents were also more likely to believe this falsehood circulated on social media, despite it being debunked on fact-checking websites including The Straits Times, according to results from an ongoing survey commissioned by the university's Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information.
The responses were collected as part of a larger survey that tracks a group of Singapore residents over the years to understand their information behaviour, the school's Associate Professor Edson Tandoc Jr, the survey's lead researcher, said on Thursday (Dec 24).
He said that while results of the larger survey may be available only early next year, his team decided to analyse responses from the vaccine-related questions, "given the importance and timeliness of the topic (of vaccination)".
A total of 999 people were polled, with an average age of 40. About 51 per cent of them were male.
On the quarter of the respondents believing in false claims that Covid-19 vaccines alter DNA, Prof Tandoc said: "This is something that we need to continue tracking, as we expect more conspiracy theories and misinformation about vaccination to spread in the coming months as more and more people get vaccinated around the world.
"The response to this particular claim is noteworthy, given that experts and news outlets have debunked it, and yet we have almost a quarter of the respondents still thinking it is true."
Prof Tandoc said the survey's finding that older respondents were more susceptible to the falsehood is consistent with earlier findings from before the Covid-19 outbreak.
"We think that part of this is that some older respondents may not be as tech-savvy when it comes to using tools to verify information. But definitely there are other explanations to this, and this is something that we continue studying," he said.
More than half will take Covid-19 vaccine
As part of the same survey, more than half of the respondents, or about 55 per cent, said they were willing to get themselves vaccinated when a Covid-19 vaccine becomes available in Singapore.
About 11 per cent said they would not get vaccinated, while about 34 per cent were undecided.
This would indicate that some of those who say they believe in the DNA claim are at least willing to consider the vaccine. Prof Tandoc said: "Belief in fake news may affect some individuals' willingness to get vaccinated, but there are also other factors at play, which we still need to understand."
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced on Dec 14 that Covid-19 vaccines are voluntary and will be made free for all Singaporeans and long-term residents.
"Hearing the Prime Minister himself say that he would get vaccinated helped increase public trust in the vaccine," said Prof Tandoc.
Over 60 per cent of those polled thought the vaccine would be effective.
Young people not immune to fake news
Younger people are not immune to fake news about Covid-19.
Another study led by Prof Tandoc and researcher James Lee Chong Boi released on Monday found that young Singaporeans got news about the virus from social media and messaging platforms such as WhatsApp during the early stages of the Covid-19 outbreak.
This shaped their concern about the dangers of fake news surrounding Covid-19 rather than the health threat posed by the disease, while the belief in the misinformation that the virus was risky for older generations but not themselves continued.
The findings suggest overconfidence in young adults both in their ability to discern information and the risk posed by the virus.
This was based on focus group discussions with 89 participants aged 21 to 27 in February, around a month after Singapore had its first case of Covid-19.
"An important consideration from these findings is how to make young people who think they are not prone to Covid-19 to be still engaging in proactive behaviours against the virus," said Prof Tandoc.
"This is even more important during the initial phase of the pandemic, where credible information about the new virus was scarce.... This process of sense-making, shaped young Singaporeans' initial view that they are not vulnerable to the virus," he added.