Three vials in a row, each with a bandage over it.
Illustration: PGN

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What you need to know

  • Misinformation often comes from cherry-picked data, experts’ quotes taken out of context, and claims that elicit an emotional response.
  • While many people spread misinformation unintentionally, some vaccine opponents spread falsehoods for personal gain.
  • Follow evidence-based science when fact-checking claims.

Although COVID-19 vaccine misinformation has been around throughout the pandemic, most of the time it takes place on the sidelines of mainstream conversation.

But rumors and falsehoods stole the spotlight in June when popular podcaster Joe Rogan released a three-hour episode with 2024 U.S. presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. filled with previously debunked vaccine misinformation and other conspiracy theories.

Influential vaccine conversations like the Rogan episode are a reminder that misinformation can go mainstream. And when that happens, it’s important that the public has the tools to identify what’s true or false. One of the best ways to protect against misinformation is to understand how it spreads.

How can I become better at identifying vaccine misinformation?

Research shows that when people are aware of the motives and tactics of bad actors, they are more likely to identify misinformation and be wary of it. Vaccine opponents often spread misinformation by cherry-picking data, taking experts’ quotes out of context, and making claims that elicit an emotional response.

So when you come across a claim that seems shocking, refrain from automatically believing it or resharing it. Take a moment first to check the reputation of the author or source and whether there is robust evidence to back the claim. Pay extra attention when encountering emotionally charged or divisive topics.

Why do vaccine opponents spread concerning narratives?

While many people spread misinformation unintentionally, be aware that some vaccine opponents spread falsehoods for personal gain, which may be in the form of attention or money. The biggest anti-vaccine personalities can make a career out of promoting misinformation and conspiracy theories. 

When thinking about who or what to trust, you can look to nonpartisan fact-checking sources like and PolitiFact. You can also do your own research, but it can be easy to fall prey to your own biases. If you do choose to look into claims on your own, follow evidence-based science, including peer-reviewed research and experts in the field who have no conflicts of interest.

Should I engage in a discussion with someone who is spreading vaccine misinformation?

It isn’t always fruitful to engage with someone who is spreading misinformation, especially if they’re doing it intentionally. Begin by determining whether this person is entering into a discussion in good faith. In other words, are they open to changing their mind? If not, it’s probably wiser to spend your time and effort elsewhere.

It’s also often not a good idea to enter into a discussion on social media or in an environment where clear communication is difficult. If you decide the person spreading misinformation is worth engaging with, try to take the conversation offline. If not, direct your focus to making sure the people closest to you have the tools to protect themselves against misinformation.