Coronavirus (1064) Managing the COVID-19 vaccine infodemic

6 November, 2020

Dear HIFA colleagues,

Below are extracts from this week's Offline column, by The Lancet editor-in-chief Richard Horton, and a comment from me.

CITATION: Offline: Managing the COVID-19 vaccine infodemic

Richard Horton

Published:November 07, 2020


Misinformation about COVID-19 vaccines is a serious threat not only to public health but also to national economic security... The connections between us in groups or networks enable the propagation of misleading evidence as well as true beliefs... We are also prey to conformity bias — a desire to agree with others and to trust the judgments of others... If your network holds strong anti-vaccine views, you may find it more difficult to arrive at your own independent judgment, even if you are inclined to have confidence in a vaccine...

What can be done? First... social media companies, especially Facebook and Twitter, must do more to police their networks and eliminate false information about a potential COVID-19 vaccine. Second, trusted politicians from all political parties (and other public figures) need to speak out in support of COVID-19 vaccine science. Third, vaccine scientists (and editors of scientific journals that publish vaccine science) must raise their standards for the work they do (and publish)... Fourth, journalists should avoid the unwitting spread of misinformation... Fifth, lawmakers can do more to regulate sources of misinformation... COVID-19 vaccine misinformation is not taken as seriously as it should be. That complacency needs to end.


Comment (NPW): Many others have suggested that raising health literacy would effectively deal with the misinformation surrounding COVID-19. It's interesting that Richard Horton doesn't even mention health literacy, but instead focuses on five elements that can be broadly called 'supply-side' interventions. I agree with him.

Building individual health literacy remains important as a long-term measure, but there is no way that health literacy can be increased in a few months or years (or even decades) to a level that will meaningfully protect the majority of the population from misinformation. People should be looking at Richard Horton's five elements (and more).

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 20,000 members in 180 countries, interacting on six global forums in four languages in collaboration with WHO. Twitter: @hifa_org FB: