WHO says Covid misinformation is a major factor driving pandemic around the world

PUBLISHED: Wed, 25 Aug 2021 08:31:00 GMT
Rich Mendez
CNBC
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Key Points
  • WHO official Maria Van Kerkhove said Tuesday that misinformation about Covid and vaccines appears to have gotten worse and is keeping people from getting the shots, driving an increase in cases.
  • In July, U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy declared Covid misinformation a “serious public threat.”
  • Most unvaccinated Americans think the Covid vaccines are more of a threat to their health than contracting the virus itself, according to Kaiser Family Foundation data.
RT: Maria Van Kerkhove, Head a.i. Emerging Diseases and Zoonosis at the World Health Organization (WHO), speaks during a news conference on the situation of the coronavirus at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, January 29, 2020.
Denis Balibouse | Reuters

A top World Health Organization official said Tuesday that misinformation about Covid-19 and vaccines is keeping people from getting the shots, driving an increase in cases around the world.

“In the last four weeks or so, the amount of misinformation that is out there seems to be getting worse, and I think that’s really confusing for the general public,” Maria Van Kerkhove, the WHO’s technical lead on Covid, said during a Q&A livestreamed on the organization’s social media channels.

Misinformation has become another risk factor that is “really allowing the virus to thrive,” she said.

Public health leaders have blamed conspiracy theories and misinformation for growing distrust of the vaccines around the world — so much so that in July U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy declared Covid misinformation a “serious public threat.”

Read more: Calls to tackle vaccine hesitancy as African Union drops AstraZeneca

Misinformation has become a growing problem in the outbreak, fueling vaccine hesitancy among a wary public, health officials say. They hope that the Food and Drug Administration’s formal approval of Pfizer’s Covid vaccine, which was announced Monday, will help push some people who have been on the fence about getting immunized to get the shots.

Three in 10 unvaccinated Americans said they would be more likely to get the vaccine once it is FDA-approved, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation survey conducted July 15-27. Some medical experts worry that some unvaccinated Americans used the lack of full FDA approval as a credible explanation for their hesitancy and will now look for other reasons to refuse to get the vaccine.

Most unvaccinated Americans think the Covid vaccines are more of a threat to their health than contracting the virus itself, according to Kaiser’s data. Americans least likely to receive a Covid-19 vaccine are mostly white, Republican and less likely to have a college degree, according to Kaiser’s data.

Dr. Peter Marks, director of the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, said misinformation about the vaccine is “one of the biggest challenges that we still face in getting the public vaccinated.”

“We’ve heard false claims that the Covid-19 vaccine causes infertility, contains microchips and causes Covid-19,” Marks said. “And worse, we’ve heard false claims that thousands of people have died from the vaccine. Let me be clear: These claims are simply not true.”

Misinformation about alternative treatments for Covid-19 has gone so far that the FDA and the Mississippi State Health Department put out advisories over the weekend to warn Americans not to ingest animal de-wormer Ivermectin.

Read more: Here are 7 of the biggest coronavirus vaccine myths busted by experts

The director of the WHO’s Latin America branch, the Pan American Health Organization, made a personal appeal to residents of Caribbean countries to “wake up” from the slumber of misinformation spreading throughout the islands and get vaccinated.

Misinformation has plagued public school board meetings across the country as school districts weigh mask and vaccine mandates for children and staff returning for the upcoming school year. Parents and community residents have shown up to public school board meetings to lambast education and public health officials for considering mask mandates, and videos of residents citing unproven and false claims about Covid and vaccines have gone viral on social media.

Vaccination could help us get Covid under control by the spring, according to the chief medical advisor to the president, Dr. Anthony Fauci.

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