Missouri groups dispel online vaccination misinformation

Vaccine misinformation news graphic
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Public health experts say the rapid spread of health misinformation online contributes to a dangerous decline in vaccination rates and an increase in illness.

Surveys show the percentage of Americans who believe vaccines are unsafe has nearly doubled since 2021, as social media users have falsely claimed approved vaccines can cause autism, cancer, or infertility.

Molly Crisp, senior communication strategist at the Missouri Foundation for Health, said public health departments should ensure they are partnering with trusted messengers to avoid damaging results.

“Whether that’s working with community-based organizations, faith-based organizations, social media influencers, community leaders,” Crisp said. “Whoever in the community is considered a trusted messenger, to ensure everyone gets the information they need to be healthy.”

Crisp added Missourians are often not exposed to credible health sources, or even to contradictory views, due to online-use algorithms. She noted until more is done to combat misinformation, individuals are left to discern what is true. In 2021, the Missouri Foundation for Health partnered with professional communications firms to help determine how to build confidence in COVID-19 vaccines.

Studies show misinformation about COVID-19 vaccines has cost the U.S. up to $300 million a day in healthcare and economic losses since 2021. It’s also contributed to an estimated 300,000 preventable deaths of unvaccinated individuals.

Monica Wang, associate professor of community health at Boston University, said with COVID-19 cases on the increase, scientists can also use social media to regain the public’s trust.

“We as researchers can do a better job communicating our science,” Wang said. “That means we start communicating our results and our processes in language that’s easy and accessible for everyday people to understand.”

Wang urged social media users to look for health information from established medical institutions and avoid content making sensational health claims. She added when in doubt, do not share information lacking scientific credentials.

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