Vaccine Misinformation and Its Link to Vaccine Hesitancy and Uptake in Durham (2018-2019)


Vaccinations administered during pregnancy and the first year of a child’s life are crucial for preventing a myriad of potentially deadly and debilitating infections such as polio, pertussis, measles, influenza and tetanus. Despite overwhelming scientific evidence on the benefits of vaccinations, pregnant women and parents of young children often refuse to accept, or choose to space out, vaccinations for themselves or their children. This phenomenon, termed vaccine hesitancy, is blamed for several vaccine-preventable outbreaks in the U.S., including the 2017 measles outbreak in a Somali community in Minnesota. In order to design effective behavior change interventions to mitigate vaccine hesitancy, we need to understand the role of misinformation in the development or promotion of vaccine hesitancy, as well as the subsequent decision to accept vaccines without delay.

Project Description

This Bass Connections project will study vaccine misinformation and its impact on vaccine hesitancy and uptake in Durham. Specifically, the project team will:

  • Conduct secondary data analysis of the coverage and timeliness of maternal and pediatric vaccines in Durham using the Duke Enterprise Data Unified Content Explorer (DEDUCE) database
  • Collect data on and assess the role of media and web-based information sources in shaping vaccine hesitancy concerns among pregnant women and new parents
  • Retrospectively evaluate the link between vaccine hesitancy and vaccination coverage/timeliness in a cohort of 100 parents who have children (ages 3-6 years) attending Duke Health clinics.

By carrying out these objectives, the team will measure the prevalence and distribution of vaccine hesitancy; elucidate the frequency and type of social media promoting vaccine hesitancy; develop or adapt methods to curate and analyze information sources; and analyze the association between vaccine hesitancy and vaccination uptake in pregnancy and early childhood.

Anticipated Outcomes

Presentation of findings to Duke community and/or members of North Carolina Immunization Advisory Board; abstracts submitted to conferences; manuscript(s) submitted to peer-reviewed journals; preliminary data for grant proposals

Student Opportunities

Student team members will receive training quantitative data analysis methods; human subjects research methods, pediatric and maternal vaccinations, computational journalism and data science. Team members will be selected based on strong interest in global health, vaccines, biostatistics and/or computational journalism from a variety of disciplinary backgrounds such as global health, computer science, engineering, humanities, biostatistics, public policy and/or medicine. Applicants with experience relevant to project aims may be preferred over other applicants at the same learner level.

This team will include up to 9 student team members with a target distribution of 6 undergraduate and 3 graduate students and/or residents/postdocs. Students will divide into 3 sub-teams that will each include 1 graduate student/postdoc and 2 undergraduates. Each sub-team will have distinct yet complementary responsibilities:

  • Sub-team 1: Quantitative data analysis using DEDUCE
  • Sub-team 2: Data collection and assessment of influence of information sources in shaping vaccine hesitancy concerns*
  • Sub-team 3: Human subjects research activities to evaluate the link between vaccine hesitancy and coverage/timeliness.

*Students interested in being part of sub-team 2 will be required to enroll in the spring semester course COMPSCI 216: Everything Data (Instructor: Machanavajjhala).

Students may also take COMPSCI 316: Introduction to Databases (Instructor: Yang) to acquire additional data management and analysis skills useful to project goals. All students will be required to complete the online human subjects research training modules.

In order to facilitate effective work within and across teams, students will likely meet weekly with sub-teams and monthly with the entire team. Faculty provide content on topic areas and resources as well as help students develop short-term goals toward the achievement of deliverables. Evaluation criteria include attendance at team meetings, participation in team activities and quality of deliverables.


Fall 2018 – Spring 2019  

  • Fall 2018: Team-building activities; sub-teams begin weekly meetings and initiate activities related to project aims
  • Spring 2019: Sub-teams continue activities related to project aims


Independent study credit available for fall and spring semesters

See related Data+ summer project, Vaccine Hesitancy and Uptake (2018).

Faculty/Staff Team Members

William Adair, Sanford School of Public Policy-DeWitt Wallace Center for Media and Democracy
Dennis Clements, School of Medicine-Pediatrics: Infectious Diseases
Ashwinkumar Machanavajjhala, Arts & Sciences-Computer Science*
Christina Makarushka, Duke Global Health Institute-Center for Health Policy
Geeta Swamy, School of Medicine-Obstetrics and Gynecology: Maternal Fetal Medicine*
Lavanya Vasudevan, Duke Global Health Institute*
Jun Yang, Arts & Sciences-Computer Science

Community Team Members

Sachiko Ozawa, UNC - Eshelman School of Pharmacy

* denotes team leader


Active, New