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Scientists urge eligible Americans to vaccinate amidst COVID-19 misinformation and distrust

During a divisive time for many Americans, misinformation and distrust in media or government entities may cause some to opt-out from COVID-19 vaccines.

“Let the scientists be the scientists, let the doctors be the doctors, let the researchers be the researchers, and let them speak,” said Monica Ott, a licensed pharmacist in Washington state.

Misinformation online and the politicization of a public health issue may contribute to the decline in vaccination appointments, seen by distributors like Emergency Management Services throughout the nation. To what degree disinformation publicized by political entities or dishonest information on social media has impacted public health is unknown.

Ott mentioned that the biggest public concern she has seen is the time it took for COVID-19 vaccinations to be developed and tested, from February 2019 to December 2020, compared to the seven to 15 year timeframe some vaccines typically take. Quicker developments come from extensive research in the field of medicines and health, programs heavily funded to combat COVID-19 and the number of manufacturers involved in the process.

The technology for mRNA vaccines was first discovered in the 1960s, allowing scientists to study the method and improve effectiveness for later use. Contrary to misinformation found online that claims DNA will be altered, Ott said that a sample of the mRNA sequence from the Coronavirus is transferred into cells, which then code for protein molecules that build antibodies in the immune system.

“We’re not giving you the Coronavirus, we’re just giving you the part of the Coronavirus your body needs to learn how to attack,” said Ott.

The belief that individuals don’t need the vaccine if they have contracted the Coronavirus already or haven’t contracted it yet is false, as COVID-19 can still pose risks greater than those from vaccine side-effects. Common misconceptions about vaccines also include infertility or sterility, injecting a live virus into the body or disproportionately emphasizing health risks.

Media emphasis can potentially overshadow accurate information, such as the case where blood clot cases caused by the Johnson and Johnson vaccine led the United Kingdom to halt vaccine distribution. Though the true risk was one-in-a-million, still much smaller than the risk that COVID-19 poses, this may have added distrust towards the vaccine.

Distrust in government entities could lead to a prolonged lockdown and pandemic, especially if the U.S. doesn’t reach its goal of vaccinating at least 70% to 85% of the population, according to John Lucas, a political science professor at Pierce College. Similarly, misinformation about the use of personal protective equipment could lead to further delays.

Lucas spoke about how despite having access to all of the information we need to know as a society, we are also in an environment where false information that we don’t need flourishes. Cross-referencing sources is a way to sift through the noise and find truth, especially with websites or video-sharing platforms that lead viewers to unreliable sources through their algorithms. 

“The information we need to make good decisions is there, but is so drowned out by the information that’s wrong, or would lead us to make bad decisions, that we don’t get to that good information,” said Lucas.

To verify factual information online from a secondary source, research studies by neutral sources, like scientists and medical professionals, who can back up their claims with evidence. 

For those persuaded by misinformation, Lucas said to provide a link to reliable sources that debunk their claims, then connect on common values, especially with political discussions.

Now that the Pfizer vaccine is available to children ages 12 to 15, and Moderna is approved by the Food and Drug Administration for ages 18 and older, families can choose to vaccinate knowing public health and ending pandemic restrictions is the focus.

Interviews and article by @elissapnwnews on Twitter.

The Puyallup Post is the award-winning news media of Pierce College Puyallup in Puyallup, Washington. Copyright The Puyallup Post 2018. Find us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Youtube @thepuyalluppost

Elissa Blankenship

Scientists urge eligible Americans to vaccinate amidst COVID-19 misinformation and distrust

by Elissa Blankenship time to read: 3 min