Misinformation fuels fears about COVID-19 vaccine

SPOKANE, Wash.– Just as the vaccine rolls out, public health experts are dealing with another kind of viral attack. This one is online.

At the University of Washington’s Center for an Informed Public, Jevin West studies misinformation and disinformation. He’s been closely monitoring how false information is impacting the pandemic and efforts to vaccinate the public.

“I wish the only problem was developing the vaccination, because that’s a tremendous feat all by itself, but now we have to deal with the people side,” West said.

One key to understanding the rampant spread of misinformation is to see how politically-charged things have been, according to West.

“We see this growing because of the kind of political nature of this pandemic, which is really unfortunate,” West said. “So it’s really difficult for people to separate the issue of public health and politics. So there is this high level of distrust.”

People can see evidence of that simply by scrolling through the comment section on a news outlet’s social media posts. For example, a Facebook post by 4 News Now on Friday announced President-Elect Joe Biden had received the COVID-19 vaccination. Comments on that post included claims like the shot was full of saline, despite no evidence of that.

With social media, unfounded claims can go viral within minutes. Some false claims will fuel fears during a time of uncertainty.

“We can almost see direct evidence of the effects of misinformation on people’s health and it affects all of us because if we don’t get enough people vaccinated, we’re going to have to keep closing down our businesses and we’re going to have to keep closing down the life we all want to return to,” West said.

Facebook, Twitter and YouTube have all pledged to remove misinformation about the COVID-19 vaccine. While that’s a step in the right direction, West hopes that individuals will do their part to think more and share less.

“People should question things. That’s something we talk about at the university. But when you ask that question, you should try and get more reliable information,” West said.

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