Addressing misinformation about the COVID-19 vaccination

We at Nadulpan have been busily developing a training package for community health workers to prepare their communities to uptake the COVID-19 vaccination when it becomes available to them. As an expat American, I watch with frustration at the US public turning their nose up at their abundance of COVID-19 vaccinations with various reasons for not wanting to get the very vaccine they were calling out for just six months ago. And now with the prospect of 'normal' dangling in front of them, many of those people once desperate to wish the virus away, are now refusing the very mechanism that would enable 'normal' to actually come back to stay.

I am starting to see countless message boards, social media posts, TV show hosts, even billboards using various attempts to either shame, humiliate and basically call the vaccine-hesitant out for refusing to get the vaccination. I get it, but I also see the evidence that shows that this is not the way to fight misinformation, disinformation, myths and rumors - if anything, those attempts to shame and belittle are shown to actually cause those people to hold even tighter to their beliefs, no matter how silly or stupid you tell them that they are being. As an expat living now in a country without enough vaccines for its population, I watch the US news and its attempts to tempt the public into vaccination centers with incredible envy for just one vial of that precious vaccine and a wish that the government and the public would try to use methods that actually coax people into those vaccination centers.

We present a series of blog posts on how everyday people like yourself can effectively combat misinformation, myths and other communications that are muddying the efforts to stop the COVID-19 vaccination effort to 80% coverage globally.

Negative messages include rumors, distorted, false or misleading opinions, misinformation and expressions of anti-vaccine sentiment. A quick primer on types of negative messaging include:

• misinformation – false or misleading information

• disinformation – false information, purposely shared to mislead others

• conspiracy theories – explanations that allude to hidden influence of powerful people

• fake news – fictitious information that imitates genuine news

Note that not all negative messages warrant a response.

Usually a vocal minority may generate a large proportion of the negative messages, which can then be amplified by social media algorithms and media attention - so don't feel you have to respond to everything or you may amplify what is wrongly stated.

Please don't sarcastically publish rumors in an attempt to mock vaccine-hesitant people - it is NOT an effective method and not every culture understands sarcasm, so it can easily be misconstrued. Responding in this way can unintentionally add to this amplification and expose new people to the misinformation.

Tune in tomorrow for information on how to respond appropriately to misinformation...

SOURCES: IOM (2021): COVID-19 Risk Communication and Community Engagement (RCCE) in West and Central Africa.

World Health Organisation (2020): Safety Surveillance manual Vaccine - communication full manual.

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