Psychology researchers have delved into what makes some New Zealanders more reluctant about receiving the Covid-19 vaccine - finding a link to right-wing beliefs, but only when in tandem with conspiratorial thinking.
While new survey data suggests four in five adult Kiwis now either intend to get vaccinated or likely will - a record result likely reflecting a growing trust in vaccine safety - experts have still sounded concern that a social-media driven "misinfodemic" could undermine health efforts.
Victoria University researcher Taylor Winter said the spread of Covid-19 across the globe came in step with a rise in conspiracies - many of which happened to be politically driven.
"Political support of conspiracies pose a significant challenge to our public health policy given the considerable air-time that can facilitate their spread."
In a new study, Winter and colleagues from the University of Otago and Melbourne's La Trobe University set out to investigate whether any connection existed between the political right-wing, a belief in conspiracies and vaccine uptake.
Diving deeper, they explored how a distrust of science could enhance the link between people's political beliefs and their support of conspiracies.
The researchers pointed out that conspiracy theories weren't a right-wing issue alone, and manifested at both ends of the political spectrum.
However, studies specifically related to Covid-19 had generally found conservative or right-wing people were more likely to be reluctant over public health recommendations - because of belief in conspiracy theories.
The new study, published online before peer review, involved initial online surveys of about 3600 people at the time of New Zealand's main Covid-19 wave last year - along with follow-up surveys with more than 1600 people eight months later.
Participants were asked where they sat on a scale measuring liberal and conservative values, along with questions gauging their belief in the credibility of science and common Covid-19 conspiracy theories.
After completing their analysis, they found most people - 78 per cent - were willing to take a vaccine.
While those who were more reluctant typically leaned to the right, Winter said that was most often the case when there was a corresponding belief in conspiracy theories.
"What we found quite fascinating, is that this effect is wiped out when a right wing individual has a strong trust in science," he said.
"Certainly what our results suggest, is that a focus on building the public's trust in science may increase vaccine uptake while reducing endorsement of conspiracy beliefs."
Winter pointed to recent comments made by Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins, who said people should speak to their local GP if they didn't trust politicians.
"Indeed this is wise advice, but more broadly we should consider whether we need to build a deeper trust around the medical facts and advice being provided to concerned New Zealanders," he said.
"Simply putting forward the medical facts and advice of the day may not be enough.
"We need to build and maintain trust in science to ensure New Zealanders can make the most informed decisions possible for their own health and that of their communities."
Modelling by Te Pūnaha Matatini researchers has indicated that 83 per cent of Kiwis would need to be vaccinated against less transmissible virus strains, like the original wild type, for measures like lockdowns and 14-day quarantine to be no longer needed.
And as much as 97 per cent of the population would need both Pfizer shots to abandon such measures, the modelling suggested, if the country was hit by a wave of a strain as transmissible as the delta variant.
According to data from another Massey University-run survey of 1100 people, as at May, 67 per cent of respondents would "definitely" get the vaccine – up 6 per cent from two months earlier - while another 16 per cent were leaning toward it.
An analysis of differences across ethnicities found 68 per cent of Pākehā "definitely" wanted to be vaccinated, up 4 per cent on March's figures, as did 54 per cent of Māori (up 10 per cent) and 72 per cent of Asians (up 13 per cent).
There was also an increase in general willingness across gender – rising to 71 per cent of men and 62 per cent of women, up from 66 per cent and 55 per cent respectively – as well as across people with all measured levels of education.
The overall trend was in line with the Ministry of Health's own research, which had found the potential uptake had increased from 69 per cent in March to 80 per cent in May.