May 3, 2021

Infodemic is the other pandemic

This story about a school in Florida reminded me that our biggest challenge in this pandemic is the spread of rumors and disinformation. I must admit this specific rumor wins for the wildest claims against vaccines I have heard so far. Vaccinated teachers are not allowed to return to that school in person. The false claim is that the vaccine is harmful anyone around the vaccinated person. The machinations to get to this conclusion truly bogle my mind.

Therefore, I am giving my periodic reminder that we are all susceptible to false claims and misinformation, so we must keep up our guard and check our sources. The Infodemic Blog has good advice and resources on vetting claims and data. Newsguard has a coronavirus misinformation tracking center to check out false claims. We all can do a better job of spotting fake news. Resources are out there to help us.

These issues matter. Our biases make us all vulnerable to fake news and disinformation. As Steve Goodman wrote in his song Turnpike Tom : “Remember that you only fall for lies and stories when you really want to.” This seems to be a universal human trait. Other countries are dealing with similar issues and mistrust which slows down containment of the virus worldwide, leading to tragic consequences.

Trust in science is a big reason why people opt to wear masks or not, as well as receiving or resisting vaccines. Mask wearing is one of our single best weapons to decrease the spread of SARS-CoV-2 and its new variants, but so many don’t accept the evidence. This TED talk is food for thought, titled “Rumors, trust and vaccines” by Heidi Larsen, a Vaccine Trust Anthropologist. She started the Vaccine Confidence Project in 2010 while working with a program to eradicate polio in Nigeria and realized rumors were the biggest obstacle to success.

Right now, vaccine hesitancy is widespread, in some areas more than others, which will lead to more deaths that are unnecessary. This will stymy our push for herd immunity and slow down our recovery towards easing of restrictions.

We can spread these resources around, which might help some. Shaming usually backfires, causing people to dig deeper in their beliefs. Checking in about their fears and concerns and sharing some of these resources may help. Finding out why they might get a vaccine can help too. Sometimes they just need permission to get past the block they are feeling. The more we can get to accept the vaccine, the faster recovery we have.

Wash your hands, cover your nose, keep safe six outdoors if not vaccinated, and check your sources.

And finally, my caveat is that this is my experience and my opinions, which are subject to change as more information is available, and not related to the organization I work for. Thanks for reading.