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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

Slowing US vaccinations

The campaign against vaccination has contributed to a sharp slowdown in the pace of inoculations since April, forcing the government to shift to what Biden has called a “door-to-door” effort to get shots in arms — a remark that itself has been portrayed as conspiratorial by some Republican leaders. While more than half the U.S. population overall has received at least one dose of a vaccine, a recent Bloomberg analysis found that among the least-vaccinated counties in the U.S., the proportion with a shot is only about 28%.

A political divide has also emerged, with Republicans far more likely to be unvaccinated than Democrats, polls show. Conservative media and some Republican officeholders have in some cases amplified disinformation, or have tacitly supported vaccine hesitancy by refusing to get shots themselves — or admit they have.

Several Fox News hosts including Sean Hannity urged their viewers this week to get vaccinated, after criticism that the network’s programs had previously aired segments downplaying the threat of COVID-19 and questioning the necessity and safety of the shots.

The U.S. surgeon general, Vivek Murthy, issued an advisory on misinformation last week. “Today, we live in a world where misinformation poses an imminent and insidious threat to our nation’s health,” he said at a White House briefing.

About 150 leading anti-vaccine online accounts gained more than 10 million social media followers from December 2019 to December 2020, especially on Instagram and YouTube, according to CCDH. Murthy accused large social media companies of practically designing their products to spread misinformation.

 

“Modern technology companies have enabled misinformation to poison our information environment with little accountability to their users,” he said. “They’ve allowed people to intentionally spread misinformation, what we call disinformation, to have extraordinary reach. They design product features, such as like buttons, that reward us for sharing emotionally charged content, not accurate content, and their algorithms tend to give us more of what we click on, pulling us deeper and deeper into a well of misinformation.”

Biden’s chief of staff, Ron Klain, recently called Facebook Inc. chief executive Mark Zuckerberg to complain about the social media platform’s role in the spread of vaccine misinformation.

“The platforms need to do better, I think particularly Facebook needs to do better,” Klain told the New York Times in a podcast released July 1. “There is just no question that a lot of misinformation about vaccines is coming from postings on Facebook, and this is a life or death situation here.”

Facebook said in its blog post on Saturday that more than 2 billion people worldwide have viewed “authoritative information” on COVID-19 and vaccines using its platform, and that 3.3 million Americans used its vaccine finder tool to locate a vaccination site and make an appointment.

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