U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy said Thursday that misinformation about the COVID-19 pandemic poses an “imminent and insidious threat to our nation’s health” and condemned the spread of what he called “common myths” by those refusing to be vaccinated.
Murthy, who lost 10 family members to COVID-19, said that online misinformation, particularly that which promoted vaccine hesitancy, threatened to prolong the pandemic at a time when the Delta variant continues to spread across America.
“Millions of Americans are still not protected against COVID-19, and we are seeing more infections among those who are unvaccinated,” he said at a press briefing in the White House.
“What we know from polls is that two-thirds of people who are not vaccinated either believe common myths about the COVID-19 vaccine or think some of those myths might be true," Murthy explained, citing a recent Kaiser Family Foundation survey. “Myths like you can get COVID from the vaccine, which is absolutely not true.”
“Simply put, health misinformation has cost us lives,” he said. “Nearly every death we are seeing now from COVID-19 could have been avoided.”
Murthy also announced the release of an advisory titled “Confronting Health Misinformation,” a 22-page document that lists ways individuals, educators, health professionals, journalists, technology platforms, researchers, foundations and governments can counter the spread of COVID-19 myths.
This advisory comes at a time when the Delta variant of the coronavirus is spiking in undervaccinated regions of the country and 99.5 percent of deaths from COVID-19 in the U.S. are occurring among those who have not received the vaccine.
“Those deaths were preventable with a simple, safe shot,” Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told Yahoo News reporter Alexander Nazaryan.
While some vaccinated individuals have contracted the coronavirus, the symptoms they face are mild and not life-threatening.
“We all have a role in the fight against misinformation,” Murthy said Thursday.
He encouraged people to double-check the credibility of sources before sharing information on social media, saying that “not sharing is caring” in the case of scientific misinformation. He also called out technology companies, asking them to “operate with greater transparency and accountability” when it comes to monitoring disinformation being shared on their platforms.
Vaccination rates in the U.S. have become increasingly divided along party lines. A recent ABC News/Washington Post poll found that 93 percent of Democrats said they were vaccinated or would be getting the vaccine, while only 49 percent of Republicans said the same.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki addressed this trend at Thursday's briefing. “We are mindful of being quite careful of not politicizing the effectiveness of vaccines, the fact that they can save lives,” she said.
Murthy, too, emphasized that the most credible sources are not necessarily elected officials or those with notable names, but health experts, scientists and doctors. “Science has to guide us,” he said.
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