COVID-19: Endorsement of Vaccine Misinformation Associated With Depression Symptoms

Further research is needed to determine causation.

Those with moderate or greater depression may be more likely to endorse misinformation related to COVID-19 vaccines, according to research published in JAMA Network Open.1

Data from a 50-state survey of Americans were used to evaluate whether symptoms of depression were associated with increased receptivity to misinformation during the COVID-19 pandemic. Cross-sectional data from 15,000 participants were used to characterize this relationship; researchers also examined a subset of respondents who completed 2 waves of the survey to evaluate the extent of initial depressive symptoms were associated with the endorsement of new misinformation over a 1-month period.

In total, 15,464 participants responded to the survey (63.6% women; mean age, 47.9±17.5 years; 76.7% White). Results of a reweighted analysis, 29.3% of respondents who had moderate or greater depression were found to endorse misinformation, vs 15.1% of respondents without. The presence of depression, the researchers noted, was “significantly associated” with an increased likelihood of misinformation endorsement (crude odds ratio [OR], 2.33; 95% CI, 2.09-2.61; adjusted OR, 2.15; 95% CI, 1.81-2.43).

Those with moderate depression were similarly more likely to indicate a lack of certainty about 1 of the items of misinformation included on the survey. After adjustment, however, this association was no longer significant.

In an effort to understand potential real-world correlates to misinformation, researchers examined participant vaccination status. Those who endorsed at least 1 misinformation item were “significantly less likely” to be vaccinated, as well as significantly less likely to report having a family member who was vaccinated.

A group of 2809 participants (65.9% women; 81.1% White; mean age, 58.1±15.3 years) who completed subsequent surveys in June and July were evaluated to analyze the risk of incident misinformation. Overall, 17.8% of that group were identified as at least moderately depressed during the April and May survey wave; 13.2% of that group endorsed at least 1 misinformation item, and the presence of depression during the first survey was “associated with a greater likelihood of reporting more misinformation.”

Study limitations include the potential for confounding, including the use of social media.

“While associative by necessity, our results more broadly suggest the importance of directly testing causation in future experiments,” the researchers concluded. “if causation could be established, it might suggest strategies aimed at reducing the consequences of depression in terms of misinformation.”

Reference

  1. Perlis RH, Ognyanova K, Santillana M, et al. Association of major depressive symptoms with endorsement of COVID-19 vaccine misinformation among US adults. JAMA Netw Open. 2022;5(1):e2145697. Doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2021.45697