Close to one in four residents in Singapore polled believes a false claim that Covid-19 vaccines alter DNA, according to a survey by Nanyang Technological University.
Older respondents were also more likely to believe this falsehood circulated on social media, despite it being debunked on fact-checking websites, including The Straits Times, according to results from an ongoing survey commissioned by the university's Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information.
The responses were collected as part of a larger survey that tracks a group of Singapore residents over the years to understand their information behaviour, Associate Professor Edson Tandoc Jr, the survey's lead researcher, said yesterday.
About 51 per cent of the 999 people polled online were male.
The respondents had an average age of 40.
On the quarter of respondents believing in false claims that Covid-19 vaccines alter DNA, Prof Tandoc said: "This is something that we need to continue tracking, as we expect more conspiracy theories and misinformation about vaccination to spread in the coming months, as more and more people get vaccinated around the world.
"The response to this particular claim is noteworthy, given that experts and news outlets have debunked it, and yet we have almost a quarter of the respondents still thinking it is true."
He added that the finding that older respondents were more susceptible to the falsehood is consistent with earlier findings.
"Some older respondents may not be as tech savvy when it comes to using tools to verify information. But... there are other explanations, and this is something we will continue studying," he said.
As part of the same survey, more than half of the respondents, or about 55 per cent, said they were willing to get vaccinated when a Covid-19 vaccine becomes available in Singapore.
About 11 per cent said they would not get vaccinated, while about 34 per cent were undecided.
This would indicate that some of those who say they believe in the DNA claim are at least willing to consider the vaccine.
Prof Tandoc said: "Belief in fake news may affect some individuals' willingness to get vaccinated, but there are also other factors at play, which we still need to understand."
Over 60 per cent thought the vaccine would be effective.
Another study led by Prof Tandoc and researcher James Lee Chong Boi released on Monday found that younger people are not immune to fake news about Covid-19, with many getting news from social media and messaging platforms in the early stages.
The findings suggest overconfidence in young adults, both in their ability to discern information and the risk posed by the virus.
This was based on focus group discussions with 89 participants aged 21 to 27 in February, around a month after Singapore had its first case of Covid-19.
"An important consideration... is how to make young people who think they are not prone to Covid-19 to still engage in proactive behaviour against the virus," said Prof Tandoc.