New Campaign Fights Vaccine Disinformation

photo of infodemic vaccine disinformation

Feb. 3, 2021 — As health care providers work against the clock to administer as many COVID-19 vaccine doses as soon as possible, logistics aren’t the only thing standing in their way.

Misinformation — which has hampered the nation’s coronavirus response — is now hurting vaccination efforts, too.

About 1 in 5 Americans say they won’t take a COVID-19 vaccine, according to Kaiser Family Foundation’s COVID-19 Vaccine Monitor. Even a third of health care workers have voiced their hesitance.

The spread of COVID-19 vaccine misinformation creates “a really powerful parallel pandemic to the real pandemic,” Imran Ahmed, CEO of the Center for Countering Digital Hate, told NPR. The center has tracked the links between vaccine misinformation and vaccine hesitancy during the past year.

The “infodemic” is essentially “working in concert to really undermine our capacity to contain COVID,” Ahmed said.

To help combat vaccine misinformation and address lingering concerns that people have, corporate, nonprofit, and media leaders, including WebMD and Medscape, are joining a public service campaign called VaxFacts. Led by HealthGuard, the goal of the campaign is to provide facts and tools to help consumers make informed decisions about vaccines.

Steven Brill, co-CEO of HealthGuard, said credible information that comes from trusted messengers is critical to counter vaccine hesitancy.

“There’s traditionally a lot of skepticism about vaccines. That has really ramped up in the last few years based on campaigns about the measles vaccine …. And now you have the COVID vaccine, which by everybody’s understanding has been “rushed,” Brill, said during an interview on Coronavirus in Context, a video series hosted by John Whyte, MD, chief medical officer for WebMD.

“There may be less understanding of the nature of what rushed really means. It’s still gone through the clinical trials it needs to go through.”

HealthGuard is a browser extension that flags health hoaxes, provides credibility ratings for hundreds of websites, and guides users to sources that offer trusted information. The tool is a new service from NewsGuard, which veteran journalists Brill and co-CEO Gordon Crovitz created in 2018 to combat misinformation in the news. HealthGuard, which is free for users globally through June, is specifically aimed at informing readers about health myths related to vaccines and COVID-19. It will cost $35 per year after that.

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