Does Social Media Coverage Influence The Hysteria Surrounding COVID-19 Vaccine Rollouts?

Despite the hysteria surrounding COVID-19 in Australia gradually easing, that’s not to say fears and stresses have completely disappeared. With the rollout of the vaccines covered frequently as a breaking news event on social media, large news corporations such as ABC News and News.com express vastly differing sentiments regarding the processes and reliability of the vaccines. With this being said it is how the vaccines are being reported which shapes the hysteria regarding the safety of the vaccines, and it is how readers consume and respond to these sentiments that solidify concerns over these breaking news stories.

What Are The Vaccines? & How Does The Rollout Work?

Currently, there are two authorised vaccines created to immunise the body against COVID-19:

  1. Pfizer-BioNTech: (two shots 21 days apart)
  2. AstraZeneca: (two shots 4-12 weeks apart)

Each vaccine functions to protect and prevent the development of COVID-19 symptoms and aims to protect Australians against serious disease. However, there is a priority of who and when people are able to access the jabs.

There are different rollout phases created to prioritise vaccinations for those at greater risk than others:

  • Phase 1a: (Frontline quarantine and border workers exposed to high risk areas).
  • Phase 1b: (Citizens aged 70-80 years and over and ATSI citizens aged 50 – years).
  • Phase 2a: (Citizens aged 50 years and over and ATSI citizens aged 16-49).
  • Phase 2b: (Citizens aged 16 to 49 years).
  • Phase 3: (Citizens aged less that 16 years) [children and youth].

What Is The Hysteria Surrounding COVID-19 Vaccines:

Due to the fact COVID-19 vaccines were created in a short amount of time there are many people who remain skeptical whether the safety of the jabs are suffice. However, hysteria surrounding the vaccines expands past fears of its reliability and safety, many people believe the vaccines will cause serious, irreversible, long term genetic effects to their bodies.

There are many fears and concerns surrounding the effects of the vaccines including:

  1. Getting COVID-19 from the vaccine itself.
  2. The vaccines are unsafe due to how quick they were formulated.
  3. The vaccine will enter and mutate your DNA.
  4. Vaccinations can make you infertile.
  5. It can cause severe and fatal blood clotting.

Considering that people are more likely to consume breaking news that appears on their social media feed before visiting a professional and reputable website such as NSW Health for information about the vaccine, people are exposed to either the positive and, or negative sentiments of major news organisations before the certified knowledge of healthcare professionals. This results in an organisations agenda being responsible for influencing the hysterical discourse surrounding the uncertainty of a vaccine that is brand new to the public sphere.

Breaking News: Blood-clots?

A majority of the hysteria surrounding the AstraZeneca virus centralises around cases where people have experience blood clotting after receiving the vaccine. According to the Department of Health “There has been a link established between the AstraZeneca vaccine and a very rare but serious side effect called thrombosis in combination with thrombocytopenia.”

However it is conformed by health professionals that “There is a very low chance of this side effect, which may occur in around 4-6 people” in every million recipients who agree to receiving the AstraZeneca jab. With this being said, while there still is indeed a risk with taking this vaccine, however, health professionals do not suggest people susceptible to this condition avoid getting vaccinated. Instead it is advocated thats patient wait for the Pfizer vaccine which is “safer for people under the age of 50”; the age demographic most likely to experience blood clotting after their vaccination.

Social Media Coverage of Breaking Vaccine News:

When comparing the social media coverage on twitter from both ABC News and News.com, it becomes clear that each news organisation has vastly differing sentiments regarding the frequently changing nature of the COVID-19 vaccine rollouts. Both organisations influence the hysteria of their audiences in different ways.

Figure 1 Twitter post collage showcasing ABC News’s positive sentiment coverage of breaking news occurrences regarding COVID-19 vaccine rollouts.
Figure 2: Twitter post collage showcasing News.com’s negative coverage of breaking news occurrences regarding COVID-19 vaccine rollouts.

ABC News & Positive Social Media Coverage:

In analysing the respective coverages as shown in Figures 1 and 2 it is clearly illustrated that ABC News covers and reports on the vaccines in an evidently positive manner, highlighting the progressive benefits and value the jabs have on its recipients. Figure 1 showcases headlines that advocate and assure readers that the vaccines are safe and beneficial measures keeping citizens clear of the virus. It becomes clear that these positive sentiments do not aggravate or elaborate the negative concerns and hysteria around the vaccines as readers are consuming information that remains separate from the skeptic discourse found within the public sphere.

igure 3: ABC News Twitter post covering blood-clotting with a seemingly optimistic and relaxed expression of a negative occurrence

As illustrated in Figure 3, while ABC News still covers the negative aspects such as cases of blood clotting and hospitalisations caused by the vaccine, it does not hyperbolise or exaggerate these occurrences like News.com does. ABC News more so covers negative aspects in a manner which assures and almost advocates for it’s audience to be confident in receiving the vaccine free from the immediate concern of side rare effects.

With the headlines in Figure 3 suggesting that experts were ‘not surprised’ to see cases of blood clotting following the AstraZeneca rollout, clarifies readers that medial professionals are indeed knowledgeable and firmly in control of the vaccines effects, a positive approach to informing readers that does not characterise health professionals to be negligent, nor covering the vaccines in a manner deeming them extremely fatal for its recipients. Overall, unlike News.com as illustrated in Figure 2, ABC News evidently excludes fear mongering terminology, which in effect assures readers the vaccines are after-all safe and beneficial measures protecting them against the virus.

News.com & Negative Social Media Coverage:

Unlike ABC News, News.com appears to have a different coverage approach for its audience where readers are more likely to criticise and avoid the COVID-19 vaccines due being exposed to information strictly focusing on how dangerous and risky agreeing to the jab will possibly be for a recipients long term health.

igure 4: News.com Twitter post showcasing a tragic occurrence caused by the AstraZeneca vaccine followed by a graph illustrating the frequency of fatal blood-clots from the same vaccine.

As illustrated in Figure 2 and 4 the social media coverage from News.com demonstrates a stark contrast to ABC News as the sentiment towards the vaccine rollouts appear to be considerably negative. There is a notable voice of skepticism and concern where the frequent use of fear mongering terms such as ‘fatal’ ‘death’ ‘died’ and ‘hospitalised’ appears in a majority of the headlines of their posts.

By including an example of a young woman who passed away soon after receiving the jab in the headline of Figure 4, readers are met with catastrophic information before being informed weather or not they “should be worried about the vaccines.” By News.com frequently including examples of fatality and death in their leads, readers are more likely to avoid being vaccinated out of fear similar occurrence will happen to them, by extension, fuelling the existing hysterical discourse surrounding Australia’s vaccine rollouts.

Overall, Sentiments Set The Agenda!

When comparing the social media coverage of the current vaccine rollouts, it’s clear that the sentiments of both ABC News and News.com are vastly different from each-other, responsible for playing a vital role in influencing the discourse of the public sphere. What the contrasting approaches to reporting on the vaccines from these major news organisations demonstrate, is that hysteria is shaped and fuels depending on how the agenda is set. Weather coverage appears to be negative, positive or natural, the readers of the clear sentiments of both news organisation are responsible for framing discussion concerning the reliability and overall safety of the vaccines.

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