By: Arash Rouhi

Vaccine misinformation is nothing new. In 1796, when the smallpox vaccine was first introduced in the West, stories were spread about how the vaccine would turn people into cows. [1] Years passed without a single case of a bovine mutation and smallpox went from a devastating disease to a relic of medical science. Unfortunately, almost 250 years later, vaccine misinformation persists.

Today, thanks to social networking sites like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, vaccine misinformation can travel faster than ever, reaching millions of people across the world in seconds. The stories range from the absurd to veiled truths that use the natural uncertainty in scientific studies to discredit vaccines.

Conspiracy Theories

Conspiracy theories can run from the vaccines being part of a nefarious plan to create a new world economic order to Bill Gates installing microchips in Pfizer vaccines to track people. [2] These conspiracy theories have garnered much online attention and have created vaccine hesitancy in a large part of the population. [3]

But not all pieces of vaccine misinformation are created alike. Some are more subtle or even somewhat legitimate.

Take for instance, the claim that we simply have no idea about the long-term effects of Covid vaccines. This claim is technically true and somewhat valid.  But both the mRNA vaccines distributed by Pfizer and Moderna, and the viral vector vaccines developed by Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca, are not completely new. These technologies have been developed over years of research for other diseases and have now been repurposed for use against Covid-19.

Even the study of Covid is not new. Scientists have been studying similar Covid viruses, such as SARS and MERS, for years. Covid vaccines including both the mRNA vaccines and viral vectors went through the same rigorous process as all other vaccines go through. What expedited their approval was a combination of the aforementioned previous research, international collaboration, and unprecedented funding.

So, although it may be true that we do not know with certainty what the long-term effects of Covid vaccines may be, there is far too much science and testing behind these vaccines to compare inoculation to a haphazard human experiment. [4]

Sources of Misinformation

To understand where vaccine misinformation comes from it is worth noting their sources. A recent study by the Center for Countering Digital Hate found that around 65% of shares of anti-vaccine misinformation comes from twelve people, a group that the study called the “Disinformation Dozen”. [5] The Disinformation Dozen are a motley crew of anti-vaccine activists (also known as anti-vaxxers), alternative health entrepreneurs, and a small group of physicians.

Credible Information

So where can you get your vaccine information from? First, you can talk to your doctor. Ask them about the potential side effects and effectiveness of the vaccines. Second, get your vaccine information from trusted sources such as government websites or accredit journals and news organizations instead of Facebook and Instagram.

In the end, the decision to get vaccinated is a personal one. We understand the hesitance and need for certainty in such uncertain times. What is important is that such a personal decision is made with accurate and full information rather than the musings of a UFC commentator.

In an upcoming blog, we will tackle some of the more well-known bits of vaccine misinformation and try to provide some answers that can bust some of the myths around the Covid-19 vaccine. But for now, stay safe and healthy.

[1] https://www.wpr.org/history-shows-anti-vaccination-misinformation-campaigns-are-nothing-new           

[2] https://www.nytimes.com/2020/05/20/technology/plandemic-movie-youtube-facebook-coronavirus.html

https://www.bbc.com/news/52847648

[3] https://www.nature.com/articles/s41562-021-01056-1

[4] https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/how-did-we-develop-a-Covid-19-vaccine-so-quickly#Funding-for-COVID-19-vaccine-research

[5] https://www.counterhate.com/disinformationdozen