U.S. health officials are urging Americans to be vaccinated against the flu to help prevent hospitals busy fighting Covid-19 from overheating this winter, but false signals threaten their efforts.
Misinformation on social media, specifically a flu shot will increase the risk of contracting the coronavirus or give you a positive test for Covid-19 – not it – weakens the public health message.
A false claim spread on Facebook and Instagram says a flu shot will increase the likelihood of Covid-19 infection by 36 percent. Another Instagram says that Sanofi Fluzone flu vaccine is 2.4 times more deadly than Covid-19.
A national study from the University of Michigan found that one in three parents plan to skip the flu vaccine for their children this year, with mothers and fathers pointing to misinformation, including beliefs that it is not effective, as a reason.
“Primary care providers play a very important role during this flu,” said Sarah Clark, a researcher at the Michigan Medicine Child Health Evaluation and Research Center, who led the study.
“They need to send parents a clear and powerful message about the importance of the flu vaccine.”
But with the daily Covid-19 infection rising to record levels in many U.S. states, misinformation remains a barrier to vaccinated people.
Jeanine Guidry, an assistant professor at Virginia Commonwealth University who studies health messaging on social media, said: “There is a lot of misinformation associated with Covid and I really believe it is spreading” to the flu.
Amelia Jamison, a misinformation researcher and doctoral student at Johns Hopkins University, agrees.
“The flu is caught up in some of the stories we see about coronavirus,” he said.
– Vaccination is different in 2020 –
Video: Fauci: Baseline information heading in the wrong direction (Associated Press)
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According to the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC), only 49.2 percent of people got the flu vaccine during 2018-19.
Aside from misinformation, measures aimed at preventing the spread of Covid-19 have resulted in fewer personal medical evacuations, where many are receiving the vaccine. And other clinical shot shots typically offered by employers, churches or schools have been held.
High unemployment due to the pandemic economic downturn has also left millions of Americans without health insurance, meaning states need to cut the cost of vaccines for more patients.
While the effectiveness of the flu shot may vary depending on whether the strain of the flu cycle in communities matches the strain on the vaccine, the CDC says it prevents millions of diseases each year.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends the vaccine for all children over the age of six months.
Flu vaccine expert Danuta Skowronski, of the British Columbia Center for Disease Control, said: “We found no association between children and adults between receiving the flu vaccine and coronavirus risk.”
– Social media response –
While social media platforms host misinformation, they also take actions to spread reliable guidance about vaccines.
This week, Facebook announced that it will begin directing US users to information about where they can get a flu shot, and promises to reject ads that encourage vaccination.
Prior to the pandemic, Twitter and Pinterest put in place policies to redirect searches of 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.
Methods developed to encourage user interaction on social media “can be used more intelligently to guide people to credible and evidence-based information,” Dunn said.
He also advocated the creation of more “vaccine advocacy communities that are welcoming, honest, and aligned with the diversity of worldviews.”
Libby Richards, associate professor at Purdue School of Nursing, said “a flu shot is more important than ever this year,” warning that serious cases of Covid-19 and the flu require the same equipment save lives.
“Receiving the flu vaccine will not only provide protection to personal health, it will also help reduce the burden of respiratory illness on our super superb health care system.”
Richards urged people to take the time to review the information.
“There are many myths about the flu vaccine that are clearly not proven by a little background reading,” he said.