As we battle the current surge of COVID cases and hospitalizations there’s yet another danger to public health lurking behind the scenes—COVID misinformation.
From social media posts, to internet chat rooms, to discussions around the water cooler, Americans are being inundated with information about COVID and the vaccines, and unfortunately much of it is false or inaccurate. In fact, such a large volume of "fake news" about the coronavirus is circulating that health officials worry it will persuade the unvaccinated to avoid getting the shots that can protect them and their family.
Another concern is that the misinformation will convince people to disregard public safety measures like wearing face masks in public and physical distancing that have proven effective at slowing the spread of the virus.
In July, U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy declared COVID-19 misinformation a “serious public health threat.” The World Health Organization went so far on Aug. 24 as to describe COVID misinformation as a major factor currently driving the pandemic around the world.
Health officials have scored one win of late in encouraging the unvaccinated to be immunized. The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine received full formal approval of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on July 23. It’s hoped the announcement will help push some fence sitters to get immunized. Three in 10 unvaccinated Americans said they would be more likely to get the vaccine once it was FDA-approved, according to a July Kaiser Family Foundation survey. Vaccinations rates around the country have climbed in in the last two months as the fast-spreading Delta variant has proliferated.
However, there are specific things healthcare organizations can do to help patients separate fact from fiction. As patients’ healthcare providers, caregivers can serve as a trusted source of truth to answer patient questions and guide them to credible sources of information. This will equip your patients with the knowledge and information they need to make well-informed decisions about their health and receiving the vaccine.
Proactively engage with patients and the public on health misinformation. Take time to understand each patient’s knowledge, beliefs, and values. Providers should listen with empathy, and when possible, correct misinformation in personalized ways. Make sure to refer patients to trusted sources of health information like the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) or the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
Use technology and media platforms to share accurate health information. Send patient education materials as group text messages with links to valuable and timely information about COVID and the vaccines. Share educational messages and links to the latest COVID research on your social media channels to keep patients informed and to help them distinguish between facts and misinformation. Share myth-busting facts about COVID and the vaccine on your provider website or patient portal.
Partner with the community. Health systems can look to the community for help in developing localized public health messages. Partner with community groups and other local organizations to prevent and address health misinformation. For example, local hospitals can work with community members to develop localized public health messages. Associations and other health organizations can offer training to providers on how to tackle misinformation based on patients’ diverse needs, concerns, backgrounds, and experiences.
To learn more about how you can help answer patients’ questions about COVID and the vaccine through valuable patient education, check out the guide, “The COVID-19 Vaccine: A Resource Guide.”