JAMA Health Forum. 2023 Sep 1;4(9):e233257. doi: 10.1001/jamahealthforum.2023.3257.
IMPORTANCE: The COVID-19 pandemic has been notable for the widespread dissemination of misinformation regarding the virus and appropriate treatment.
OBJECTIVE: To quantify the prevalence of non-evidence-based treatment for COVID-19 in the US and the association between such treatment and endorsement of misinformation as well as lack of trust in physicians and scientists.
DESIGN, SETTING, AND PARTICIPANTS: This single-wave, population-based, nonprobability internet survey study was conducted between December 22, 2022, and January 16, 2023, in US residents 18 years or older who reported prior COVID-19 infection.
MAIN OUTCOME AND MEASURE: Self-reported use of ivermectin or hydroxychloroquine, endorsing false statements related to COVID-19 vaccination, self-reported trust in various institutions, conspiratorial thinking measured by the American Conspiracy Thinking Scale, and news sources.
RESULTS: A total of 13 438 individuals (mean [SD] age, 42.7 [16.1] years; 9150 [68.1%] female and 4288 [31.9%] male) who reported prior COVID-19 infection were included in this study. In this cohort, 799 (5.9%) reported prior use of hydroxychloroquine (527 [3.9%]) or ivermectin (440 [3.3%]). In regression models including sociodemographic features as well as political affiliation, those who endorsed at least 1 item of COVID-19 vaccine misinformation were more likely to receive non-evidence-based medication (adjusted odds ratio [OR], 2.86; 95% CI, 2.28-3.58). Those reporting trust in physicians and hospitals (adjusted OR, 0.74; 95% CI, 0.56-0.98) and in scientists (adjusted OR, 0.63; 95% CI, 0.51-0.79) were less likely to receive non-evidence-based medication. Respondents reporting trust in social media (adjusted OR, 2.39; 95% CI, 2.00-2.87) and in Donald Trump (adjusted OR, 2.97; 95% CI, 2.34-3.78) were more likely to have taken non-evidence-based medication. Individuals with greater scores on the American Conspiracy Thinking Scale were more likely to have received non-evidence-based medications (unadjusted OR, 1.09; 95% CI, 1.06-1.11; adjusted OR, 1.10; 95% CI, 1.07-1.13).
CONCLUSIONS AND RELEVANCE: In this survey study of US adults, endorsement of misinformation about the COVID-19 pandemic, lack of trust in physicians or scientists, conspiracy-mindedness, and the nature of news sources were associated with receiving non-evidence-based treatment for COVID-19. These results suggest that the potential harms of misinformation may extend to the use of ineffective and potentially toxic treatments in addition to avoidance of health-promoting behaviors.