Mercury Project Names First Cohort to Fight Health Misinformation and Increase Vaccine Uptake

Named after the Roman god of messages and communication, Mercury, the Mercury Project is a global consortium of researchers launched last November by the New York-based Social Science Research Council and dedicated to combating the impacts of mis- and dis -information in public health. Bad information, whether intentionally or accidentally spread, has been termed an “urgent threat” by the U.S. Surgeon General and an “infodemic” by the World Health Organization.

This week the three-year project – funded to date with $10.25 million from The Rockefeller Foundation, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Craig Newmark Philanthropies, and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation – announced its first cohort of social and behavioral scientists from around the world. The 12 teams from 17 countries are tasked with researching locally tailored solutions on how bad health information spreads, how to combat it, how to build stronger information systems, and how to increase COVID-19 vaccination rates. A second cohort of research teams to be announced later will draw from $20 million in funding from the National Science Foundation.

The need for this work is dire: The NSF notes that as of June 24, only 18.4 percent of individuals in low-income countries had received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, despite vaccine availability, high excess mortality rates, high rates of post-infection complications, and the ongoing threat of infection from new variants.

Funded projects from the first cohort will provide evidence about what works–and doesn’t–in specific places and for specific groups to increase COVID-19 vaccination uptake, including what is feasible on the ground and has the potential to be cost-effective at scale.

Each of the teams will have access to findings from the other teams while exploring interventions such as literacy training for secondary school students to identify COVID-19 vaccine misinformation; identifying and equipping trusted messengers with communication strategies to increase vaccine uptake; or harnessing social networks to share tailored messaging on vaccines.

Researchers in the first cohort are affiliated with research institutions and implementing partners around the world. The complete list of grantees, and descriptions of each project, are at https://www.ssrc.org/mercury-project-grantees.

  • Canada: University of Regina
  • Côte d’Ivoire: Centre for Research and Action for Peace
  • England: The London School of Economics, London School of Health and Tropical Medicine, the University of Bristol, University of Lincoln, and University of Warwick
  • France: Aix-Marseille School of Economics
  • Ghana: Ghana Health Service, Innovations for Poverty Action, University of Health and Allied Sciences
  • Haiti: Zanmi Lasante (Partners in Health)
  • Kenya: Partnership for African Social and Governance Research
  • India: Centre for Policy Research
  • Malawi: Abwenzi Pa Za Umoyo (Partners in Health)
  • Mexico: Center for Research and Teaching in Economics, Instituto Tecnológico Autónomo de México, and Instituto Tecnológico y de Estudios Superiores de Monterrey
  • Sierra Leone: Ministry of Health and Sanitation, Ram Labs, Unicef
  • Spain: University Carlos III
  • Rwanda: Inshuti Mu Buzima (Partners in Health)
  • Tanzania: Economic and Social Research Foundation, National Institute of Medical Research, University of Dar es Salaam
  • United States: Carnegie Mellon, Columbia, Duke, Harvard and Harvard Medical School, MIT, New York University, Rutgers, St. Augustine University, Stanford, UC Berkeley, University of Southern California, the University of Chicago, the University of Pennsylvania, the University of Michigan, Vanderbilt, and Yale

These 12 teams were chosen from among 200 submissions made for Mercury Project funding. “The large volume of high-quality proposals submitted to the Mercury Project underscores just how eager the social and behavioral science community is to evaluate interventions to increase vaccination demand and build healthier information environments,” said Anna Harvey, president of SSRC.

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