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New available survey data shares insights on COVID-19 prevention and a potential vaccine

While preventive measures are currently the only tools people can use to protect themselves from contracting COVID-19, knowledge about the effectiveness of these measures varies around the world. The COVID-19 Preventive Health Survey is designed to help researchers understand people’s knowledge, attitudes, and practices about COVID-19 prevention. By reporting people’s knowledge about measures such as physical distancing and use of masks, the survey can support policymakers and researchers to develop improved messaging and outreach to communities. This data can also help health systems prepare to address communities where future vaccine acceptance appears low.

This survey was launched in July 2020 in 67 countries and territories through a partnership between Facebook, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and Johns Hopkins University Center for Communication Programs (JHU CCP), and advised on by the World Health Organization Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network. The survey asks people to self-report their adherence to preventive measures, such as washing hands and wearing masks, as well as what they know about COVID-19, including symptoms of the disease, risk factors, and how their community is handling the pandemic. The survey also asks respondents about perceived behaviors of others in their communities and assesses whether communities would want a future COVID-19 vaccine.

“This new survey gives us a different view on COVID-19 by measuring beliefs, knowledge, and behaviors that are critical to effective responses,” says Dean Eckles, Associate Professor at MIT.

Privacy-preserving approach

Facebook and partners designed the survey with privacy in mind from the start. This survey leverages the same model as the COVID-19 Symptom Surveys, where Facebook invites a sample of Facebook users to take a survey off of the Facebook platform by our academic partner. In addition to language preference, Facebook shares a single de-identified statistic known as a survey weight, which doesn’t identify a person but helps researchers correct for nonresponse bias. This helps ensure that the sample more accurately reflects the characteristics of the population represented in the data. Facebook does not share who took the survey with partners, and they do not share individual survey responses with Facebook. Facebook has access only to the aggregate survey data that is publicly available.

Data available for research

Analysis

We used publicly available aggregate data from the Preventive Health Survey in the following analysis. These charts include data on adults ages 20 years or older from countries and territories that received a one-time snapshot survey, as well as countries and territories that received wave surveys, fielded three times between July and August 2020.

Mask knowledge and mask usage

We first analyze the correlation between knowledge of mask effectiveness and mask usage in countries and territories with at least an 1,000 effective sample size. Mask usage includes respondents who self-reported that they wore a mask at least one time in the last week to prevent contracting COVID-19. Mask knowledge includes those who responded that wearing a mask is very or extremely effective in preventing COVID-19. Though we do not control for mask mandates, we see that the percent of people wearing a mask is moderately correlated with the percent of people who believe wearing a mask is effective (correlation coefficient = 0.64).

Preventive behaviors in the United States

We then examine preventive behaviors in the United States by age group, including whether respondents said they washed their hands, wore a mask, or kept at least 1 meter of distance from others in the last week to avoid contracting COVID-19. We see that the 41-to-50 age group is the least likely to practice preventive behaviors overall: This group consistently has the lowest or second-lowest percentage of people across all three preventive behaviors, even though older populations are at an increased risk of COVID-19 complications. Of the three behaviors, keeping a 1-meter distance is the least adopted behavior, especially among the younger age groups. About 10 percent fewer respondents between 20 and 50 years old report keeping a 1-meter distance from others, compared with washing hands and wearing a mask.

COVID-19 vaccine acceptance

Given the number of efforts underway to develop a COVID-19 vaccine, we analyzed the percentage of respondents who said they would take a COVID-19 vaccine, if one were to become available. The following figure shows the countries and territories with the five highest and five lowest percentages of people who said they would take a COVID-19 vaccine. Future research may elucidate how these sentiments change over time and how they are affected by COVID-19 and flu vaccine developments in the near future.

Partnership opportunities and next steps

The Preventive Health Survey adds to a number of data sets and resources that Facebook’s Data for Good program has made available to support partners with public health responses during COVID-19. The survey can be used to tailor risk communication to specific populations, evaluate the efficacy of policies such as stay-at-home orders and masks, and inform decision-making from both policy and program perspectives.

“Covering dozens of countries with this kind of data collection and analysis will be unparalleled,” says J. Douglas Storey, PhD, JHU CCP’s Director of Communication Science and Research. “There has never been any global source of information like this, and it will capture the more nuanced drivers of behavior and a range of psychosocial factors not currently being collected in a systematic way.”

To generate actionable insights from the survey that can be used quickly in national responses, our partners are developing public dashboards. MIT’s dashboard is available here and JHU CCP’s dashboard is coming soon.

We welcome feedback on the usefulness of the data and how similar survey efforts in the future may be most helpful for researchers aiding public health responses. For any questions related to the Preventive Health Survey, please reach out to PHSurvey@fb.com.

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