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ORIGINAL ARTICLE
Year : 2021  |  Volume : 48  |  Issue : 2  |  Page : 93-97

Information-seeking behavior on Coronavirus Disease-19 Vaccine on the internet: A global and Indian search trend analysis


1 Department of Physiology, Raiganj Government Medical College and Hospital, Raiganj, West Bengal, India
2 Department of Physiology, Nil Ratan Sircar Medical College and Hospital, Kolkata, West Bengal, India
3 Department of Physiology, Pandit Raghunath Murmu Medical College and Hospital, Baripada, Odisha, India

Date of Submission05-Mar-2021
Date of Acceptance28-May-2021
Date of Web Publication18-Aug-2021

Correspondence Address:
Himel Mondal
Department of Physiology, Nil Ratan Sircar Medical College and Hospital, Kolkata, West Bengal
India
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None


DOI: 10.4103/jss.jss_18_21

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  Abstract 


Background: A significant portion of the global population seeks health-related information on the Internet. The world is searching for an effective vaccine to control the coronavirus disease-19. Knowing the information-seeking behavior of the population helps in designing an awareness program. Aim: This study aimed to explore the information-seeking behavior of the global and Indian population by analyzing Internet search trends. Materials and Methods: This cross-sectional study was conducted from April to November 2020. We used fully anonymous data available in the public domain (https://trends.google.com/trends). The phrase “COVID vaccine” was searched with “schedule,” “when,” “cost,” “where,” and “side effect” to compare the trends. The global and Indian data were categorized month-wise and statistically tested by the Chi-square test. Results: Global Internet users seek information on “when” the COVID vaccine would be available followed by “where” to get the vaccine. The “schedule,” “cost,” and “side effect” come later. Indian search trend is similar for “when” and “where.” However, the third query was the “cost” followed by “schedule” and “side effect.” Conclusion: The Internet search trend showed that people around the world want to know when they would get a vaccine and where to get it. The least search volume was about the side effects of the vaccine. Primary care physicians, government, and nongovernment stakeholders may use this finding for optimum dissemination of information both online and offline.

Keywords: Coronavirus, COVID-19, information-seeking behavior, internet, vaccines


How to cite this article:
Mondal S, Mondal H, Samantaray R. Information-seeking behavior on Coronavirus Disease-19 Vaccine on the internet: A global and Indian search trend analysis. J Sci Soc 2021;48:93-7

How to cite this URL:
Mondal S, Mondal H, Samantaray R. Information-seeking behavior on Coronavirus Disease-19 Vaccine on the internet: A global and Indian search trend analysis. J Sci Soc [serial online] 2021 [cited 2021 Dec 6];48:93-7. Available from: https://www.jscisociety.com/text.asp?2021/48/2/93/324073




  Introduction Top


We are passing through the coronavirus disease-19 pandemic (COVID-19). The majority of the countries are following strict measures to contain the infection by several measures such as social distancing, maintenance of respiratory hygiene, and frequent and proper handwashing at the individual level and nationwide and regional lockdown by the regulatory bodies.[1] Starting from March 11, the day when the World Health Organization declared the pandemic, scientists around the globe are searching and testing various treatment methods to treat the patients suffering from COVID-19.[2] Early diagnosis of a disease and treatment is secondary prevention. As viral diseases are spread quickly among the population, the global community is in search of the vaccine which comes under primary prevention.[3] The electronic and print media are covering the news regarding the development of the vaccine, its phases of the trial, its potential to prevent the disease, possible application in the particular country.[4],[5]

People around the globe have now restricted print media access. Hence, a large proportion uses only electronic media for their source of information. This is applicable for health-related information too.[6] Usage of smartphones and the Internet has been increased in recent years in India. Low-cost smartphones and affordable Internet connectivity have connected many of the Indian remote areas to the vast collection of information available on the internet. Hence, active information-seeking has now a dependency on the Internet, even among primary care physicians.[7] People can easily search for the targeted information from governmental and nongovernmental sources of information available on the Internet. However, the source should always be a credible one. Otherwise, the desired and appropriate health information can be missed. Besides, various websites and blogs are there that may contain misinformation.[8] Hence, common people can land on these websites too. Knowledge about the information-seeking behavior of the population can help in formulating the awareness program.[9] In simple words, if we know the demand, we can supply accordingly. This is true for the Internet too. If we know what people want to know, we can create web content according to the hierarchy of the demand.

Google search engine is a free and widely used major search engine around the globe with some countries barring its usage. It provides its search trends (https://trends.google.com/trends) in relative search volume in a public domain for unrestricted usage.[10] Worldwide and regional search trend data are also provided in customized periods. Several previous studies used Google search trends for observing and analyzing the search pattern for health-related issues. Google search trends can even predict the potential occurrence of a disease.[11] Furthermore, when the disease is first reported on the media, the search volume increase as the Internet is among the easiest mode of information gathering.[12]

A previous study by Rampally et al. explored the common vaccine-related search keywords in an eastern Indian sample. The authors found from the survey that “when, where, cost, side effect, and schedule” are the most common query that comes in mind about the vaccine. When the global search pattern was explored from the Internet search pattern, they reported that the hierarchy of search is schedule > when > cost > where > side effect. The study was concerned about the vaccines which are available for decades and are in wide use globally.[10] However, how people are searching for the COVID-19 vaccine is not available in the literature. Hence, the knowledge of information-seeking behavior on the COVID-19 vaccine on the Internet could help the governing bodies to plan their strategy for mass awareness programs online. The information would also help the primary care physicians to educate their patients with an available credible source of information.

With this background, we conducted this study to know the information-seeking behavior of the global and Indian population about COVID vaccine-related information by analyzing the Internet search trends.


  Materials and Methods Top


Ethics

This study was carried out with the data available in the public domain. The domain does not restrict their source data to be analyzed by any third party. Identification of Internet users who were searching for a particular keyword is not divulged on the website. Hence, ethical clearance is not necessary for this study.[13]

Study type and setting

We conducted this cross-sectional observational study from April to November 2020. We collected the Internet search trend data from the Google Trends website (https://trends.google.com/trends). For the data collection and analysis, we used a personal computer (ASUS VivoBook Max X541N) and an Internet connection on a personal capacity. No institutional resources were utilized for the study.

Keywords selection

According to a previous study by Ramapally et al., the most common query on a vaccine is related to the keywords– “Schedule” > “when” > “cost” > “where” > “side effect.”[10] We considered these keywords along with the phrase “COVID vaccine.” For example, if the search is about the query with the “when” keyword, the full phrase is “COVID vaccine when.”

Data collection

On the Google trends website (https://trends.google.com/), we first collected the “worldwide” data with the default setting of “web searches” with the date range of April 1, 2020–November 30, 2020. We compared five phrases (viz. COVID vaccine schedule, COVID vaccine when, COVID vaccine cost, COVID vaccine where, and COVID vaccine side effect) [Figure 1]. The data on the relative search volume for these five keywords were downloaded for further analysis. Then we selected “India” instead of “worldwide” and kept all other settings similar to the previous search.
Figure 1: An example of comparing search trends of five phrases in Google trends website

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Calculation and statistical analysis

The relative search volume is provided by Google trends consecutively according to date. We arranged the data according to months for observing the trend in 8 months period. For comparing the data among the five searches, we used the Chi-square test with an expectation of equal distribution of search volume across the keywords. A statistically significant P value (<0.05) indicates that the distribution did not occur by chance. We used GraphPad Prism 6.01 (GraphPad Software, San Diego, CA, USA) for carrying out the statistical tests.


  Results Top


Worldwide Internet search trends showed that the global population wants to know “when” the COVID vaccine would be available. “Where” to get the vaccine is the next query, followed by “schedule,” “cost,” and “side effect” [Figure 2].
Figure 2: Global Internet relative search volume about COVID vaccine (April – November 2020). Footnote: The numbers in X-axis indicates relative search volume and Along Y-axis, the bar for each keyword is arranged for the month April to November from below upward

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Indian trend showed similarity for the first two keywords [Figure 3]. However, the third query of Indian Internet users was “cost.” The next two were “schedule” and “side effect.”
Figure 3: Indian Internet relative search volume about COVID vaccine (April – November 2020). Footnote: The numbers in X-axis indicates relative search volume and Along Y-axis, the bar for each keyword is arranged for the month April to November from below upward

Click here to view


Month wise global and Indian relative search volume is shown in [Table 1]. The global search volume was the highest in the month of November for all the keywords. The Indian search volume showed a peak of “when” and “cost” search in July, “where” in May, “schedule” in August, and “side effect” in October.
Table 1: Global and Indian month wise relative search volume on coronavirus disease vaccine-related internet searches

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The top five countries searching for when the COVID-19 vaccine would be available are Ireland, Canada, Nepal, United Arab Emirates, the USA, and India. Where the vaccine would be available are searched with the highest volume from South Africa, Ireland, Canada, United Arab Emirates, and the United Kingdom. The top five countries searching for schedule are the United Arab Emirates, Canada, United States, Singapore, and the Philippines. Information seeking for the cost of the vaccine are the United Arab Emirates, Canada, Singapore, Ireland, and United Kingdom. Side effect of vaccine is searched at highest volume from the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, and India.

Indian state-wise data showed that “when” keyword is searched at the highest volume from Karnataka, West Bengal, Delhi, Maharashtra, and Jharkhand. The keyword “where” is searched maximum from Delhi, Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, Sikkim, and Nagaland. The states concerned about the cost of the vaccine are Karnataka, Delhi, Telengana, Maharashtra, and Uttar Pradesh. There was not enough data for “schedule” and “side effect” for comparison among Indian states.


  Discussion Top


The global and Indian information-seeking behavior on the Internet showed that people are concerned about the time when the COVID-19 vaccine would be available. Hence, the information on the probable date of completion of trials or even an online dedicated vaccine dashboard would be beneficial to disseminate credible information about the progress of vaccine trials. Developing a vaccine and passing through the clinical trials is not a process to be finished with tight deadlines.[3] However, transparent data on the actual development would keep the population updated about the development. A previous study by Rampally et al. also found that “when” is the most common query about vaccine-related information.[10] However, that study was about the vaccines that are available for decades. Hence, that query might be about the time when to get the vaccine. In contrast, our finding may be about the time when the vaccine would be available.

The global trend showed that there is a peak of the search about the vaccine in November. The underlying reason may be higher media coverage and both governmental and nongovernmental promotion of upcoming vaccine. A previous study showed that the internet search volume is correlated to the news coverage and legislative actions.[12] However, the Indian search volume peak was from May to August and it decreased thereafter. The possible underlying reason may be starting of the “social ending of pandemic.”[14] At the initials stages of the pandemic, India was not well prepared for the disease, and fear and emotional stress were higher.[15] However, later with the development of dedicated COVID hospitals and isolation wards in hospitals and institutional and home quarantine facility had partially kept the disease contained.[16]

Although the searches with “schedule” and “cost” are not similar in global and Indian population, the search about the “side effect” comes at the last among the five keywords. It indicates that the population is least concerned about the side effect of the vaccine. However, the side effect of a vaccine should always be declared adequately with the benefit. This enables the population for an informed choice.

When the occurrence of a disease is increased, the search volume increases. Shah et al. showed that a higher infection rate with rotavirus increases the internet search volume.[17] However, the introduction of vaccine significantly reduces the search volume about the disease. In any future study, we would check what happens with the COVID vaccine-related search volume after the introduction of the COVID-19 vaccine for the population.

Limitation

We only analyzed Google search trends. The volume of searches in other web search engines such as Yahoo and Bing., is not feasible to include. Some countries do not allow their population to use the Google search engine. Hence, data from these countries could not be included. Furthermore, data were only obtained for the English language.


  Conclusion Top


Both global and Indian Internet search trends showed that people seek information on “when” they would get the COVID-19 vaccine and from “where.” The least volume of the search was for “side effect” of the vaccine among the five keywords. This finding would help in understanding the information-seeking behavior on COVID-19 vaccine-related information. Doctors including primary care physicians and government and nongovernment stakeholders may use this finding for designing a strategy for awareness programs both online and offline for the general population.

Financial support and sponsorship

Nil.

Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest.



 
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