China is at the forefront of global efforts to develop COVID-19 vaccines and has five fast-tracked candidates in the final-stage, large scale human clinical trials tests. Layered on top of public engagement, making an informed and judicious choice is a dilemma for the Chinese government in the context of COVID-19 vaccination promotion.
In this study, public opinions in China are analyzed via public dialogues on Chinese social media, based on which the views on COVID-19 vaccines and vaccination of Chinese netizens are investigated. We recommend strategies for promoting vaccination programs in the most populous country based on an in-depth understanding of the challenges in risk communication and social mobilizations.
We proposed a novel behavioral dynamics model SRS/I to analyze the opinion transmission paradigms on Chinese social media. Coupled with meta-analysis and natural language processing (NLP) techniques, the emotion polarity of individual opinion is examined in contexts.
We collected more than 1.75 million Weibo messages about COVID-19 vaccines from January to October in 2020. According to the public opinion reproduction ratio (R_0), the dynamic propagation of those messages can be classified into three-stage: the Ferment period (R_0,1.1360), the Evolution period (R_0, 2.8278) and the Transmission period (R_0, 3.0729). Significantly, the topics on COVID-19 vaccine acceptance in China are emerging from the landscape of public opinion transmissions, such as price, side effects, and the like. From September to October, the Weibos claimed that the vaccine was overpriced, occupied 18.3%, and received 38.1% Likes in Weibo’s relevant topics. On the contrary, the number of Weibos which considered the vaccine reasonably priced is twice that of the former, but it received less amount of Likes, accounting for 25.0%. The emotional polarity of netizens in terms of side effects is another aspect of our research. We obtained 47.7% positive and 31.9% negative Weibos about side effects, respectively. One intriguing phenomenon we also captured in this research is that the inactivated vaccines aroused much more heated discussion than any other vaccine type. The Discussions, Forwards, Comments, and Likes from the topics of inactivated vaccines respectively account for 53%, 42%, 56%, and 49% of those from the five types of vaccine development in China.
Most Chinese believe that the vaccine is cheaper than previously thought, while some claim they could not afford it for their entire family. The Chinese are inclined to be positive to side effects over time and proud of China’s development regarding vaccines. Nevertheless, they have a collective misunderstanding about inactivated vaccines, insisting that inactivated vaccines are safer than other vaccines. Reflecting on those collective responses, the unfolding determinants of COVID-19 vaccine acceptance provide illuminating benchmarks for vaccine-promoting policy-makings.