Covid US: Biden’s Surgeon General says misinformation is ‘urgent health threat that puts lives at risk’
The US Surgeon General warns Americans that disinformation about COVID-19 is an “urgent threat” to public health as the number of cases continues to rise across the country and vaccination rates continue to stagnate.
In his first advisory under the Biden administration, released Thursday, Dr. Vivek Murthy that false information about COVID-19 – and the vaccines to fight it – is ‘putting lives at risk’.
It suggests that misinformation has hindered efforts to get the U.S. population vaccinated, led people to distrust health officials, and led to the promotion of unproven treatments.
The advice states that combating disinformation is a ‘moral and social responsibility’, not only for individual citizens, but also for institutions.
Health disinformation is an urgent threat to public health. It could create confusion, sow mistrust and undermine public health efforts, including our ongoing work to end the COVID-19 pandemic,” Murthy said in a statement.
“As a Surgeon General, my job is to help people stay safe and healthy, and without limiting the spread of health disinformation, American lives are at risk… to meet this challenge is an all-round approach. society requires, but it is critical to the long-term health of our nation.”
At a press conference on Thursday about the advice, Murthy revealed he has lost 10 family members to COVID-19.
US Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy released his first advisory under the Biden administration on Thursday, calling disinformation about COVID-19 “an urgent threat to public health.” Pictured: Murthy speaking at an event in Delaware, December 2020
The advisory suggested the pandemic has hampered vaccination efforts as daily admissions drop below one million per day (above)
The advisory also focuses on divisions between Democrats and Republicans, saying partisan divisions have contributed to the spread of misinformation.
Murthy does not name politicians, but does indicate that lawmakers play a large role in spreading accurate public health messages.
“Disinformation tends to thrive in environments of significant societal division, hostility and mistrust,” the consultancy said.
“Distrust of health care through experiences of racism and other inequalities may make it easier for some communities to spread misinformation.
‘Increasing polarisation, also in the political field, can contribute to the spread of disinformation.’
Murthy’s opinion also discusses the role social media platforms have played in contributing to “unprecedented speed and scale” of the spread of misinformation.
He called on technology platforms to “take responsibility for tackling the damage”, strengthen monitoring of misinformation and track down repeat offenders.
With the seven-day average of COVID-19 cases up 129 percent in the past two weeks, largely due to transmission of the Indian ‘Delta’ strain, the Biden administration has urged Americans to be vaccinated.
However, adult vaccination rates have stalled at about 67 percent, which is especially troubling given that infection rates are highest in counties with low vaccination coverage.
There are many factors that contribute to low vaccination coverage, including a lack of public transportation, little internet access to schedule appointments, and less supply in urban communities.
But misinformation also plays a role in vaccine hesitancy.
a may opinion poll of the Kaiser Family Foundation found that two-thirds of unvaccinated adults believe or are unsure about vaccine myths, including that the vaccines cause COVID-19, lead to infertility, or alter DNA.
It’s because the seven-day moving average of COVID-19 cases has risen 129% in the past two weeks (above) amid the spread of the Indian ‘Delta’ variant
Murthy says this will not only endanger lives but also prevent the country from ending the pandemic earlier.
“COVID has really brought into focus the full extent of the damage health disinformation is doing,” he said. NPR in an interview prior to the release of the advisory.
“Any life lost to COVID-19 if we have vaccines available is a preventable tragedy.”
The advisory also lists other ways Americans can identify false health information, avoid sharing it, and spread accurate health messages.
It encourages health professionals to interact with patients by listening “with empathy” and correcting any inaccurate information presented in a respectful manner.
For government agencies, Murthy recommends investing in tools to investigate and verify claims, and work with health organizations to disseminate accurate information.
He also recommends that media organizations and journalists be trained in recognizing and unmasking disinformation.