Vaccine misinformation is as harmful as the coronavirus


Sabrina Almeida

If you’re on social media you’ve probably seen a zillion warnings about coronavirus vaccines. Conspiracy theorists and anti-vaxxers aside, most of the apprehensions about COVID-19 inoculations stem from  how little we know about them.

The perceived role of politics in the vaccine development process combined with a lack of trust in government raises many concerns about potential side effects. After all these vaccines were developed and approved at warp speed when compared to some of the previous inoculations we have taken.

So, while we might easily dismiss falsehoods about vaccines turning us into monkeys or that they contain microchip surveillance technology, some others manage to wiggle in some serious doubts about their safety.

Take the claim that vaccines cause infertility for example. Several friends shared their concerns about the impact it may have on their children’s ability to procreate. I admit it bothered me a bit because one of the individuals who raised the doubt is a doctor. Naturally, I assumed there was some truth to it. I tried to discuss it with my sons who simply shrugged their shoulders and said they would take their chances with the vaccine!!!

The next one, about some COVID-19 vaccines containing aborted human fetal tissue, posed both a moral and religious dilemma for pro-lifers like me. Anti-abortionists and the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops said mRNA vaccines were “preferred” over the AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson shots which were developed, produced, and tested with cell lines that originally came from human fetuses, possibly after elective abortions.

We discussed this “finding” at home as well. But again, my sons simply shook their heads at me and said it wouldn’t change their decision about being vaccinated or which vaccine to accept.

The Church has since revised its stance to say that in the absence of a choice, Catholics should take any vaccine approved by Health Canada.

Public health officials irked by this controversy created around religious lines and the possibility of it causing vaccine hesitancy, pointed out that we have moral responsibility to everyone around us, not just ourselves. Some others say that these moral fears are difficult to prove and therefore unfounded.

Nonetheless there were plenty of messages on the subject from the usual suspects in my inbox.

Health experts agree that it is quite easy to make people fearful about taking COVID-19 vaccines.

The news about some European countries halting use of the AstraZeneca vaccine exemplifies this.

It dominated social conversations and sowed doubts.  

I avoided mentioning it to my mother who is not in favour of taking a COVID-19 vaccine. Every time I broach the topic, she quotes news reports of “vaccine-related” deaths in India. So, I’ve hit the pause button on trying to convince her to get vaccinated for the time being at least.

The bottom line is that unsubstantiated information about vaccines is as harmful to society as the coronavirus that we are desperately trying to get rid of.

A Harvard study says public health officials and governments must distinguish between misinformation based on insufficient data and disinformation perpetuated by vested interests in order to effectively deal with it.

But fake news is not the only problem. Media reports also influence our thinking and feed into our prejudices. Meaning anti- vaxxers will tout news reports about the AstraZeneca controversy in Europe, right?

A BBC report also highlighted how news is “accidentally” warping our perception of reality – and not necessarily for the better. The report delves into the premise that negative news gets our attention faster than good news does and so that is what is presented to us.

I’d like to go a step further and say that news reports also plant certain ideas in our head since we do not have first-hand access to most information. We believe what we read or hear on the news!

But given that not all media coverage is unbiased, it’s not simply about distinguishing between real and fake news!

Here’s where health care professionals play a vital role in clarifying our doubts about vaccines. But given that our public health officials are doing a poor job of addressing our concerns, under pressure by the politicians perhaps… whom should we turn to?

Definitely not social media or friends!!!

If you have concerns, talk to your family physician or and pharmacist.   News reports, social media and past experiences may inspire certain doubts which healthcare professionals are best equipped to clarify!

Most importantly, let’s not become a channel for misinformation!



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