Other’s opinion: Vaccine misinformation must be eradicated

Published 6:30 am Wednesday, February 3, 2021

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The Free Press, Mankato

Misinformation can be deadly.

If the public is exposed to anti-vaccine information and too many people believe it and don’t get immunized against COVID-19, the consequences affect all of us.

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Herd immunity won’t happen if the majority of people don’t get vaccinated, which means at least 75-80% of the population. Letting immunity occur inefficiently on its own is a painfully slow, deadly gamble as we have all witnessed.

Worrying about vaccine refusal when so many people are eagerly waiting to get vaccinated may seem like a poor placement of priorities, but it’s crucial the public not consume bad information about the vaccine as doses become more available.

Although most have, not all employees in health-care systems have agreed to be vaccinated, which is baffling when their industry is so affected by this pandemic.

Too many naysayers led by rampant misinformation campaigns have died in denial as COVID took their lives or those of their family members and friends.

When government leaders and social media contribute to the misinformation and mixed messages, people become confused, suspicious and more susceptible to conspiracy theories.

Researchers at Cornell University analyzed 38 million articles about the pandemic, and mentions of Donald Trump made up nearly 38 percent of the overall “misinformation conversation,” according to a Washington Post analysis. The Biden administration is trying to fix that problem and will regularly update the public with the status of the pandemic and measures to stop it. But undoing the damage will not come easy.

Equally important is social media’s action on this front. Tech companies have wrestled with enforcing their rules on misinformation and are finally coming around to moderating their content. Consider how many lies Trump tweeted before he was shut down. Anti-vaxxers before COVID used their platforms to spread doubt about the safety of vaccine, helping to contribute to measles outbreaks across the nation, including in Minnesota.

A group of senators, led by Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, sent a letter last week to leaders at Twitter, Google, YouTube and Facebook, urging them to increase transparency about efforts to fight vaccine-related misinformation. This is a start, but other lawmakers as well as the public need to add to the pressure so those CEOs take the situation seriously.

In the meantime, it’s important that public health agencies, educational institutions and employers do their part to distribute factual information about the efficacy and safety of the vaccine as well as about the protections of personal information. Language barriers as well as wariness about vaccination in general among some immigrants and refugee populations need to be considered and extra efforts made to reach and reassure them.

The general public also must be critical of wild claims on social media and from fringe outlets that are not based on scientific fact. The origin of the information should be clear if it’s coming from a reputable news source.

COVID-19 can be fatal. Let’s not assist the virus in doing damage by allowing ourselves to fall prey to misinformation about the vaccine that can help eradicate it.