Cable News and COVID-19 Vaccine Compliance
38 Pages Posted: 22 Jul 2021
Date Written: July 20, 2021
COVID-19 vaccines have already reduced infections and hospitalizations across the globe, yet resistance to vaccination remains strong. This paper investigates the role of cable television news in vaccine skepticism and associated local vaccination rates in the United States. We find that, in the later stages of the vaccine roll-out (starting May 2021), higher local viewership of Fox News Channel has been associated with lower local vaccination rates. We can verify that this association is causal using exogenous geographical variation in the channel lineup. The effect is driven by younger individuals (under 65 years of age), for whom COVID-19 has a low mortality risk. Consistent with changes in beliefs about the effectiveness of the vaccine as a mechanism, we find that Fox News increased reported vaccine hesitancy in local survey responses. We can rule out that the effect is due to differences in partisanship, to local health policies, or to local COVID-19 infections or death rates. The other two major television networks, CNN and MSNBC, have no effect, indicating that messaging matters and that the observed effect on vaccinations is not due the consumption of cable news in general. We also show that there is no historical effect of Fox News on flu vaccination rates, suggesting that the effect is COVID-19-specific and not driven by general skepticism toward vaccines.
Note: Funding: The project is funded internally at ETH Zurich, and there are no external funders to declare.
Declaration of Interests: We have no competing interests to declare.
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