The spread of false information threatens efforts by health officials in the United States to urge residents to receive the flu vaccine to relieve pressure during the winter from hospitals busy fighting Covid-19.
And misleading information is spread on social media, especially those indicating that receiving the influenza vaccine increases the risk of infection with the emerging corona or may lead to the emergence of a positive result with a Covid-19 examination.
A misleading claim circulating on Facebook and Instagram indicates that receiving a flu vaccine increases the risk of catching COVID-19 by 36 percent. And another spread on Instagram indicates that the influenza vaccine produced by Sanofi, called “Fluzone”, is 2.4 times more deadly than Covid-19.
A study conducted by the University of Michigan found that one in three parents decided to give up giving their children the flu vaccine this year, as parents attributed the cause to misleading information, including those indicating that it is ineffective.
Sarah Clark, a specialist at the Michigan Medical Center for Research and Child Health Assessment, who led the study, said, “Primary care providers have a really important role to play in the current flu season,” according to Agence France-Presse.
“They should deliver a clear and strong message to parents about the importance of the flu vaccine,” she added.
But with the number of daily Covid-19 cases rising to record levels in several US states, disinformation is a barrier to vaccinating residents.
“There is a lot of misinformation related to COVID-19 and I think it extends as well” to influenza, said Janine Gaydry, an assistant professor at Virginia Commonwealth University who studies health messages on social media.
The disinformation researcher and PhD student at Johns Hopkins University, Amelia Jamieson, agrees with this view and says, “Influenza has become part of the narratives that we are seeing about the emerging corona virus.”
Vaccines falter in 2020
The US Centers for Disease Control reports that only 49.2 percent of people received the flu vaccine in the 2018-19 season.
In addition to the misleading information, measures aimed at containing the outbreak of Covid-19 have reduced personal preventive visits to clinics, during which many receive the vaccine. The flu vaccine doses that are usually provided by employers, churches and schools have also stopped.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that all children over the age of six months be vaccinated.
Social media response
While social media leaves the possibility of misinformation spreading, it is also moving to publish reliable advice about vaccines.
And Facebook announced this week that it would start directing users in the United States to information about where they would have to go to get a flu vaccination, and pledged to reject ads that urge not to receive vaccines.
Before the pandemic, Twitter and Pinterest had established policies to redirect searches using certain keyword-related vaccines to public health organizations.
But Adam Dunn, director of biomedical and digital health information systems at the University of Sydney, indicated that this is not enough.
He said the methods developed to encourage user engagement on social media “can be used in a more discreet manner to guide people to credible and evidence-based information.”
He also called for the creation of more “vaccine advocacy societies that are honest and compatible with a diversity of viewpoints around the world.”
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