Misinformation about covid-19 breathes new life into the anti-vaccine movement

published on Monday 04 July 2022 at 09:25

As misinformation about COVID-19 continues to flourish, more parents in the United States are wondering if their children need other vaccines, and more adults are choosing to skip shots, even those that have long been proven safe.

Because the politicization of vaccines against Covid-19 has fueled the anti-vaccine movement, contributing to the drop in the number of immunizations against measles, polio and other dangerous diseases.

Parents “are asking if (vaccines) are really necessary or if we can give them later,” says Jason Terk, a Texas pediatrician and spokesman for the American Academy of Pediatrics.

“It’s not a majority of parents, but we’re seeing higher numbers,” he adds.

Anti-vaccine social media messaging is amplified by conservative political figures, as well as campaigns abroad, whose misinformation about vaccines predates the pandemic.

And with vaccination rates declining, there are fears that diseases that have been largely eradicated will re-emerge in many parts of the world.

In the United States, the percentage of children in kindergarten who received the recommended vaccines decreased by one point, to 94% in 2020-2021.

“I call it parallel contagion,” Terk said. “It appears to be driven by a hesitation over Covid-19 vaccines and a growing mistrust of vaccines and the institutions we have relied on to keep us healthy.”

In some states, the changes have been surprising, especially at the height of the pandemic. Researchers found a 47% drop in Texas vaccination rates for five-month-olds and 58% drop for 16-month-olds between 2019 and 2020.

These researchers wrote in the scientific journal “Vaccine” that these declines were due to lockdowns, vaccination exemptions, but also an “aggressive anti-vaccine movement in Texas.”

Washington state saw a 13% drop in childhood vaccination rates in 2021 from pre-pandemic levels, and Michigan’s toddler vaccination rate fell last year to 69.9%, the lowest in a decade.

– Adults too –

Rates in adults and adolescents of vaccines that protect against diseases such as influenza, hepatitis, measles and tetanus have also decreased, according to the health consultant Avalere.

This led to about 37 million vaccination doses missed from January 2020 through July 2021 for adults and children ages seven and older, Avalere found.

Social media helped create a coalition of anti-vaccine, libertarian, and conservative politicians. This has been amplified by disinformation actors from Russia and elsewhere, according to David Broniatowski, a professor at George Washington University.

“People have opposed vaccines for as long as they’ve been around, but they’ve gotten more sophisticated in the last 10 years, and a lot of this is down to the ability to organize on social media across borders,” Broniatowski said. , which studies misinformation about vaccines.

For him, if anti-vaccine activists, libertarians and foreign actors do not necessarily coordinate, “they have found common cause” in opposing the obligation to vaccinate.

“One of the biggest changes we’ve seen is that vaccines have gone from being a health issue to a civil and political rights issue,” he added.

Conspiracy theories have increased during the pandemic, according to a 2021 YouGov poll, which found that 28% of Americans and a significant number of people in other countries say the truth about the harmful effects of vaccines is “deliberately hidden”.

Broniatowski says foreign disinformation agents are using the vaccines as a way to “mobilize part of the population.”

The investigation by the Center for European Policy Analysis showed that China and Russia had promoted disinformation about the Covid-19 vaccine, in part to show that Western governments were incompetent and unreliable.

“There has been a concerted effort by these actors to undermine the position of science because it serves their political purposes,” Broniatowski said.

The problem is also growing globally. A United Nations report revealed last year that 23 million children worldwide did not receive routine vaccinations in 2020.

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