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News Brief

Jan. 17, 2024 |  By: Farah Siddiqi - Public News Service

MO groups dispel online vaccination misinformation


By Farah Siddiqi - Public News Service

Public health experts are saying the rapid spread of health misinformation online is contributing 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 make sure 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 outlined. "Whoever in the community is considered a trusted messenger, to make sure that everyone is getting 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 observed until more is done to fight misinformation, individuals are left to discern what is true. In 2021, Missouri Foundation for Health partnered with professional communications firms to help determine how to build confidence in COVID vaccines.

Studies show misinformation about COVID-19 vaccines has cost the U.S. up to $300 million a day in health care 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 about communicating our science," Wang acknowledged. "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.