The COVID-19 pandemic has been notable for the widespread dissemination of misinformation regarding the virus and appropriate treatment. The  objective of this study was to quantify the prevalence of non–evidence-based treatment for COVID-19 in the US and the association between such treatment and endorsement of misinformation as well as lack of trust in physicians and scientists.

This single-wave, population-based, nonprobability internet survey study was conducted between December 22, 2022, and January 16, 2023, in US residents 18 years or older who reported prior COVID-19 infection.

Self-reported use of ivermectin or hydroxychloroquine, endorsing false statements related to COVID-19 vaccination, self-reported trust in various institutions, conspiratorial thinking measured by the American Conspiracy Thinking Scale, and news sources.

A total of 13 438 individuals (mean [SD] age, 42.7 [16.1] years; 9150 [68.1%] female and 4288 [31.9%] male) who reported prior COVID-19 infection were included in this study. In this cohort, 799 (5.9%) reported prior use of hydroxychloroquine (527 [3.9%]) or ivermectin (440 [3.3%]). In regression models including sociodemographic features as well as political affiliation, those who endorsed at least 1 item of COVID-19 vaccine misinformation were more likely to receive non–evidence-based medication (adjusted odds ratio [OR], 2.86; 95% CI, 2.28-3.58). Those reporting trust in physicians and hospitals (adjusted OR, 0.74; 95% CI, 0.56-0.98) and in scientists (adjusted OR, 0.63; 95% CI, 0.51-0.79) were less likely to receive non–evidence-based medication. Respondents reporting trust in social media (adjusted OR, 2.39; 95% CI, 2.00-2.87) and in Donald Trump (adjusted OR, 2.97; 95% CI, 2.34-3.78) were more likely to have taken non–evidence-based medication. Individuals with greater scores on the American Conspiracy Thinking Scale were more likely to have received non–evidence-based medications (unadjusted OR, 1.09; 95% CI, 1.06-1.11; adjusted OR, 1.10; 95% CI, 1.07-1.13).

The authors concluded that, in this survey study of US adults, endorsement of misinformation about the COVID-19 pandemic, lack of trust in physicians or scientists, conspiracy-mindedness, and the nature of news sources were associated with receiving non–evidence-based treatment for COVID-19. These results suggest that the potential harms of misinformation may extend to the use of ineffective and potentially toxic treatments in addition to avoidance of health-promoting behaviors.

This study made me wonder to what extend a lack of trust in physicians or scientists, and conspiracy-mindedness are also linked to the use of so-called alternative medicine (SCAM) for treatning COVID infections. As I have often discussed, such associations have been reported regularly, e.g.:

The authors point out that the endorsement of misinformation related to COVID-19 has been shown to decrease the intention to vaccinate against COVID-19, to decrease the belief that it is required for herd immunity, and to correlate with forgoing various COVID-19 prevention behaviors. Such false information is largely spread online and often originates as disinformation intentionally spread by political actors and media sources, as well as illicit actors who profit from touting supposed cures for COVID-19.  A substantial minority of the public endorses false information related to COVID-19, although certain subgroups are more likely to do so, including those who are more religious, who distrust scientists, and who hold stronger political affiliations. Cultivating and maintaining trust is a crucial factor in encouraging the public to engage in prosocial health behaviors. The extent to which addressing conspiratorial thinking could represent a strategy to address obstacles to public health merits further investigation.

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