Co-Chairs’ Statement: Vaccine Confidence, Social Media Misinformation, and National Security within the Covid-19 Crisis

With the prospect of returning to stable economic and social life in the United States depending, to a great extent, on the successful introduction and dissemination of a Covid-19 vaccine(s), the connection between vaccines and U.S. national security is clear. Decreasing immunization coverage and erosion of confidence in vaccines, along with the rising number of confirmed Covid-19 cases and circulation of misinformation about the Covid-19 pandemic, threaten U.S. interests as never before. Recognizing the urgency of the challenges, and building on the work of the CSIS Commission on Strengthening America’s Health Security and the Vaccine Confidence Project™ at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (CSIS-LSHTM), the CSIS-LSHTM High-Level Panel on Vaccine Confidence and Social Media Misinformation Campaigns brings together a select group of experts from key sectors to articulate pragmatic solutions to the complex issues of vaccine hesitancy, misinformation, and national security against the backdrop of the Covid-19 crisis.

In 2019, the World Health Organization listed vaccine hesitancy among the top 10 threats to global health. Within the Covid-19 outbreak, the term “infodemic” is being used to describe the spread of misinformation about the virus, including what causes it, how it spreads, and how it may be prevented or treated. The circulation on social media of conspiracy theories and rumors about the motives of vaccine manufacturers raises questions about the extent to which the world will accept a Covid-19 vaccine once one is ready.

Vaccine hesitancy is not a new phenomenon. Concerns about vaccine safety surfaced soon after the first smallpox vaccines were introduced in the 18th century. But these concerns have intensified in some communities over the last 25 years as global programs have expanded, and the number of recommended vaccines has multiplied. As outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases have declined, some individuals and health care providers have grown complacent about the need for vaccination. There is also a newer dynamic in which immunization efforts are disrupted by “digital wildfires”—social media assaults that occur at moments of high political tension or the start of immunization campaigns and which both feed off of community mistrust of government actions and contribute to a broader sense of societal instability. While the impacts of vaccine hesitancy are felt primarily in public health, the roots of hesitancy are closely connected to trust in public institutions. The solutions to addressing the crisis of vaccine confidence in the context of a digital communications revolution require expertise from the fields of social science, intelligence, national security, cybersecurity, and digital media analytics.

Beginning in July 2020 and working through the spring of 2021, the CSIS-LSHTM High-Level Panel on Vaccine Confidence and Social Media Misinformation Campaigns will analyze the diverse forms of vaccine hesitancy in the United States and their links to international phenomena; identify the roles social media plays in driving hesitancy and acceptance trends; examine the ways in which vaccine hesitancy and misinformation undermine national security; and articulate practical policy recommendations for managing misinformation related to demand for, and uptake of, vaccines, with an emphasis on a Covid-19 vaccine once one is available.

The panel’s work is supported by a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect the views of the foundation.



Heidi J. Larson
Professor of Anthropology and Risk and Director
Vaccine Confidence Project™, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine

J. Stephen Morrison
Senior Vice President and Director, CSIS Global Health Policy Center


Katherine E. Bliss
Project Director and Senior Fellow, CSIS Global Health Policy Center

Michaela Simoneau
Program Manager, CSIS Global Health Policy Center


Congressman Ami Bera (D-CA-7), U.S. House of Representatives

Mollyann Brodie, Executive Vice President, COO, and Executive Director, Public Opinion and Survey Research, Kaiser Family Foundation

David Broniatowski, Associate Professor of Engineering Management and Systems Engineering, School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, George Washington University

Congresswoman Susan Brooks (R-IN-5), U.S. House of Representatives

Frederick Chang, Chair, Computer Science Department, Lyle School of Engineering, Southern Methodist University

Cary Funk, Director, Science and Society Research, Pew Research Center

Bruce Gellin, President, Global Immunization, Sabin Vaccine Institute

Denise Gray-Felder, Founding President and CEO, Communication for Social Change Consortium

Katie Greene, Program Director, Health Division, National Governors Association

Margaret “Peggy” Hamburg, Foreign Secretary, National Academy of Medicine

Johnny Heald, Managing Director, ORB International

Rebecca Hersman, Senior Adviser and Director, Project on Nuclear Issues, CSIS International Security Program

Kathleen Hicks, Senior Vice President, Henry A. Kissinger Chair, and Director, CSIS International Security Program

Juliette Kayyem, Senior Belfer Lecturer in International Security, Harvard Kennedy School

James Lewis, Senior Vice President and Director, CSIS Technology Policy Program

LaQuandra Nesbitt, Director, District of Columbia Department of Health

Joe Rospars, Founder and CEO, Blue State

Umair Shah, Executive Director and Local Health Authority, Harris County Public Health

Julia Spencer, Associate Vice President, Global Vaccines Public Policy, Partnerships, and Government Affairs, Merck & Co., Inc.

Claire Wardle, Co-Founder and Director, First Draft News

Juan Zarate, Chairman and Co-Founder, Financial Integrity Network

Commentary is produced by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a private, tax-exempt institution focusing on international public policy issues. Its research is nonpartisan and nonproprietary. CSIS does not take specific policy positions. Accordingly, all views, positions, and conclusions expressed in this publication should be understood to be solely those of the author(s).

© 2020 by the Center for Strategic and International Studies. All rights reserved.

Katherine E. Bliss
Senior Fellow and Director, Immunizations and Health Systems Resilience, Global Health Policy Center
Professor of Anthropology and Risk and Director, Vaccine Confidence Project™, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine