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Disinformation still drags down nation's COVID-19 vaccination rate, Hopkins epidemiologist warns

Hallie Miller, The Baltimore Sun on

Published in News & Features

In Maryland, about 58% of the population has been fully vaccinated, and more than 76% of adults over 18 have at least one dose of vaccine. More than 200 cases were added to the state’s infection tally Wednesday, and just fewer than 150 were hospitalized, state data show.

People who remain unvaccinated are now more likely to contract severe disease and require hospitalization than those who have been inoculated. And nearly all of the deaths caused by COVID-19 are linked to people who have not been vaccinated, top U.S. health officials say.

“All states remain at risk for seeing case surges and deaths,” Nuzzo said. “We are in a very worrisome phase right now.”

Van Hollen, a Democrat, said he’s been encouraged by Republicans in Congress and on the airwaves starting to publicize their trust in the vaccines. Rep. Steve Scalise, the No. 2 House Republican, received his first dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine over the weekend, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has endorsed the immunizations, too.

“These shots need to get in everybody’s arm as rapidly as possible, or we’re going to be back in a situation in the fall that we don’t yearn for, that we went through last year,” McConnell said during his weekly news conference. “I want to encourage everybody to do that and to ignore all of these other voices that are giving demonstrably bad advice.”

Meanwhile, as false narratives and dangerous rhetoric continue to circulate, threats against public health figures, such as Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, have escalated, Nuzzo said. And Hopkins’ experts have not been immune to harassment, she said.

Hopkins has outlined a five-prong approach to strengthening the public health system, which includes a call to end the harassment against health officials for communicating with the public.

 

“This general phenomenon has affected people who are speaking as public health experts,” said Dr. Joshua Sharfstein, a vice dean at the Bloomberg school. “What has happened to public health officials has been unprecedented during the pandemic. Even as they are trying to keep people alive in their own communities they are fearing for their own safety. It’s why so many people have left their jobs.”

Slavitt said the malicious intentions of bad actors and untrustworthy messengers not only jeopardizes the public health field but also endangers those who remain hesitant about getting vaccinated.

“Misinformation is a business,” he said. “Convincing people not to get vaccinated is a way to either raise money politically or promote engagement on a website, and this is not what we should expect from each other at a ‘pull-together’ moment.”

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(Baltimore Sun reporter Meredith Cohn contributed to this article.)

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