Coronavirus (1015) Policymakers and health misinformation (32) Evaluating interest in off-label use of disinfectants for COVID-19

7 October, 2020

Extracts from a Comment in Lancet Digital Health, and a comment/question from me below.


CITATION: Evaluating interest in off-label use of disinfectants for COVID-19

Jessica Malaty Rivera et al.

Lancet Digital Health: September 28, 2020DOI:

During a White House press briefing on April 23, 2020, President Trump implied that the White House Coronavirus Task Force should investigate injections of disinfectant as a potential treatment for COVID-19...

Political leaders, especially the president of the USA, can command media attention and direct public health policy.3 During public health emergencies, imprecise communication of emerging research by government leadership can cast doubt on reputable sources of scientific information... Government leaders who openly question scientific consensus on an important issue can increase anxiety and perceptions of threat among the public, undermining the effect of accurate information and encouraging risky behaviours...

Our findings show a contemporaneous relationship between President Trump's remarks and online search trends, expanding upon previous analysis of the President's statements on public health behaviours and in concordance with the Spiral of Silence theory. The White House press briefings are intended to provide the latest COVID-19 updates from the USA government; thus, accurate science communication is of paramount importance. Following the press briefing on April 23, 2020, there was an over 3000% overnight increase in search interest for off-label use of disinfectants (appendix p 12). Public officials have a responsibility to communicate issues that are evidence-based and positively affect public salience, especially during public health emergencies. As previous research has shown, “clear and evidence-orientated communication regarding pandemics can positively affect the public's awareness” and promote public health during a pandemic. Misleading information related to off-label use of any substance might adversely affect public knowledge and behaviour, and experts in science and public health should work to counteract harmful communication of health information via all venues and platforms.


Comment (NPW): As our ongoing discussion on 'Policymakers and health misinformation' reveals, in the current pandemic several high-level politicians, including heads of state, are responsible for egregious and dangerous misinformation. None of them are being held to account despite the negative impact on public health and trust in science. Current legal structures seem powerless to do anything about this, and it seems bizarre to me that leaders can continue to act in this way. Any thoughts on what can be done?

Best wishes, Neil

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HIFA profile: Neil Pakenham-Walsh is coordinator of the HIFA global health campaign (Healthcare Information For All - ), a global community with more than 19,000 members in 177 countries, interacting on six global forums in four languages in collaboration with WHO. Twitter: @hifa_org FB: