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With multiple promising candidates for COVID-19 vaccines inching closer to becoming a reality, much of the world is looking forward to a near-ish future marked by safe indoor family gatherings, live music, and drunken karaoke nights. But public health researchers are still concerned that some Americans, in their unwillingness to get vaccinated, will possibly endanger the rest of the public — and this fear is justified, according to two studies released this week.
A National Geographic survey of 2,201 Americans found that 69 percent of men said they would take a COVID-19 vaccine, as opposed to 51 percent of women; indeed, nearly one-quarter of women in the survey said they would “definitely not” take a vaccine. Such results squared with the results of a Pew survey released on Thursday, which similarly found that 45 percent of women would “probably not” or “definitely not” take a vaccine, as opposed to 33 percent of men.
The studies didn’t further specify the demographic breakdown of those who would refuse the vaccine, but the Pew research in particular paints a slightly fuller picture. Overall, the study authors found, “personal concern about getting a serious case of COVID-19 is lower among white adults than those in other racial and ethnic groups,” and it is also lower among middle- and upper-class adults than lower-income people.
At first glance, the skew towards women refusing the vaccine is somewhat surprising, given that previous data has shown that women are more likely to engage in many anti-COVID-19 prophylactic measures, such as wearing a mask, than men. But as disinformation reporter Ben Collins pointed out on Twitter, the gender gap aligns with the general explosion of anti-vaccine sentiment on social media, a community that has historically been largely driven by well-off white women.
Due in part to the explosive popularity of the anti-vaccine film Plandemic on Facebook, as well as the general proliferation of the QAnon-driven, anti-child trafficking #SaveTheChildren movement, women are becoming increasingly radicalized in online spaces.
This is particularly true with mothers, conspiracy theory researcher Mike Rothschild, author of the book The World’s Worst Conspiracies, previously told Rolling Stone. “A lot of moms are freaked out about what might happen with their kids, and their kids not doing so great with the pandemic. They’re too worried, too online, and have a lot of time on their hands.” Such conspiracy theories have increasingly started infiltrating larger, also female-driven communities, such as the yoga and wellness spaces on Instagram.
Researchers are also witnessing the blending together of many online-based conspiracy theories, which writer Anna Merlan has referred to as “the conspiracy singularity.” This has brought many women further down the rabbit holes of previously disparate conspiracy theories, such as QAnon and the anti-vaccine movement, that have increasingly started to converge.
“Once these communities converge, there’s increasingly cross-pollination,” Zarine Khazarian, assistant research editor at the Digital Forensic Lab, previously told Rolling Stone. “It’s been thought of as this fringe conspiracy theory that only people super into 8chan and are sort of internet-savvy adhere to, but really it has a much broader appeal and that is sort of the danger of it — it can be something that's very attractive to a suburban soccer mom.”