U.S. health officials are urging Americans to get vaccinated against the flu to prevent overcrowding in hospitals already busy fighting Covid-19 this winter, but false claims threaten their efforts.
Disinformation on social media, especially that the flu vaccine will increase the risk of coronavirus infection or lead to positive tests for Covid-19 – no – undermines the public health message.
A false statement spread on Facebook and Instagram says that the flu vaccine will increase the likelihood of Covid-19 infection by 36%. Another on Instagram says that the Sanofi Fluzone flu vaccine is 2.4 times more lethal than Covid-19.
A national study from the University of Michigan found that one in three parents plans to miss the flu vaccine for their children this year, with mothers and fathers citing misinformation, including the belief that it is not effective.
“Primary care providers need to play a really important role this flu season,” said Sarah Clark, a researcher at the Michigan Center for Child Health Assessment and Research, who is leading the study.
“They need to send a clear and strong message to parents about the importance of the flu vaccine.”
But with daily Covid-19 infections rising to record levels in several US states, false information remains a barrier to people being vaccinated.
Janine Hydry, an assistant professor at the University of the British Commonwealth of Virginia who studies health media on social media, said: “There is so much misinformation about Kovid, and I really believe it spills over” to the flu.
Amelia Jamieson, a misinformation researcher and doctoral student at Johns Hopkins University, agreed.
“The flu is involved in some of the stories we see about the coronavirus,” she said.
– Vaccination was discontinued in 2020 –
Video: Fauci: The starting line of the infection is going in the wrong direction (Associated Press)
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According to the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC), only 49.2% of people received the flu vaccine in the 2018-19 season.
In addition to misinformation, measures aimed at curbing the spread of Covid-19 have led to fewer preventive medical visits, during which many receive the vaccine. Other flu clinics, usually offered by employers, churches or schools, have also been detained.
High unemployment due to the economic consequences of the pandemic has also left millions of Americans without health insurance, which means that the United States will have to bear the cost of vaccines for more patients.
While the effectiveness of the flu vaccine may vary depending on whether the flu strain circulating in the communities matches the strain in the vaccine, the CDC said it prevents millions of diseases each year.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends the vaccine for all children over the age of six months.
Influenza vaccine expert Danuta Skowronski of the Center for Disease Control in British Columbia said: “We have not seen a link in children or adults between getting the flu vaccine and the risk of coronavirus.”
– Answer on social media –
While social media platforms host misinformation, they are also taking action to disseminate reliable guidelines for vaccines.
This week, Facebook announced that it would start directing US users to information about where they can get the flu, and promised to reject ads that discourage vaccination.
Prior to the pandemic, Twitter and Pinterest introduced policies to redirect searches for certain vaccine-related keywords to public health organizations.
But Adam Dunn, head of Biomedical Informatics and Digital Health at the University of Sydney, said more could be done.
The methods developed to promote consumer engagement on social media “could be used more sensibly to direct people to reliable and evidence-based information,” Dunn said.
He also advocated the creation of more “pro-vaccination advocacy communities that are friendly, honest and consistent with a variety of worldviews.”
Libby Richards, an associate professor at Purdue School of Nursing, said the “flu vaccine is more important than ever this year,” warning that severe cases of Covid-19 and flu require the same life-saving equipment.
“Getting a flu shot will not only provide personal health protection, but will also help reduce the severity of respiratory illnesses on our already over-stretched health care system.”
Richards encouraged people to take the time to verify the facts.
“There are many myths about the flu vaccine that can be dispelled with a little background reading,” she said.