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'Ridiculous': Vaccine myths cripple US uptake as delta surges

Josh Wingrove, Kristen V. Brown and Daniel Zuidijk, Bloomberg News on

Published in News & Features

The excuses range from the merely false to the absurd. The shots don’t work. They impair fertility. They’ll alter your DNA. They’ll magnetize you. They actually spread the virus.

Unvaccinated Americans cite a litany of myths to explain their hesitance to get shots, confounding local health officials battling yet another surge of coronavirus cases fueled by the more transmissible delta variant. Inside the White House, the concern is so acute that President Joe Biden has publicly lashed out at Facebook Inc. for helping to spread disinformation.

“Everything from Bill Gates putting a microchip in it — I’ve heard everything. It’s ridiculous,” said Tom Keller, chief executive officer of Ozarks Health Care in southern Missouri, a region with low vaccination rates that’s an epicenter of the U.S. delta outbreak.

“People are listening to social media instead of listening to their docs,” he said. “Somebody who has a million followers all of the sudden becomes the expert on not getting the vaccine.”

Just as the Biden administration appeared at the verge of snuffing out COVID-19 in the U.S., a shadow pandemic of disinformation threatens to prolong the crisis. Promulgated virus-like itself through social media platforms, a miasma of uncertainties, anecdotes and outright lies has seized the imaginations of Americans hesitant to be vaccinated, slowing the U.S. campaign to inoculate its population.

Biden himself showed his frustration last week, accusing Facebook and other social media giants on Friday of “killing people” by allowing posts with falsehoods about the virus and vaccines.

 

On Wednesday, during a town hall hosted by CNN, Biden said that “what we’re trying to do is use every avenue we can — public, private, government, non-government — to try to get the facts out, what they really are.”

He walked back his remarks about Facebook this week after the company rebuked him in a blog post, citing data showing that its platform has helped to increase vaccination rates and reduce hesitancy among its users. Biden instead cited a report from the Center for Countering Digital Hate, a nonprofit with offices in London and Washingon, that found 12 leading anti-vaccine individuals and organizations are responsible for as much as 70% of Facebook content discouraging Covid-19 vaccinations.

“Facebook isn’t killing people,” Biden said Monday. “These 12 people who are out there giving misinformation, anyone listening to it is getting hurt by it, it’s killing people. It’s bad information.”

He added that “instead of taking it personally,” Facebook should “do something about the misinformation.”

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