Health experts call on officials to counter anti-vaccine activism

A panel of health experts calls on health officials and policymakers in both the public and private sectors to do more to counter anti-vaccine activism and sentiment in the United States and persuade Americans of the life-saving benefits of vaccines against COVID and other diseases.

In an article published in the medical journal The Lancet, a team of experts from the University of California, Riverside, say anti-vaccine activism has contributed to COVID vaccine hesitancy and that there are signs that it is spreading to other vaccines.

“We constantly need to amplify the best science and find the best ways to communicate it so people hear it through multiple channels instead of just one or two sources,” said Richard M. Carpiano, lead author of the paper and d a public policy. professor at UC Riverside.

“It’s a matter of life and death. People don’t always see it that way,” he added. cause of COVID-19 as well as many other vaccine-preventable diseases.”

In the past, anti-vaccine activism primarily targeted parents and school vaccination demands, but COVID has provided activists with a much larger and broader audience, the authors wrote. As the crisis unfolded, they were able to exploit discontent over public safety measures, such as physical distancing, school closures and masks. Activists have joined right-wing groups – and some Christian nationalist pastors – in opposing vaccines and downplaying the severity of the disease.

Once vaccine trials began, activists immediately began to discredit the process and sow distrust among Americans unfamiliar with the clinical trial system.

“Examples include promoting messages that linked COVID-19 vaccines to past medical abuses such as the Tuskegee Syphilis Study when they targeted black communities, or heightening existing mistrust in health care. health and government institutions for Latinos, and fueling concerns about fertility COVID-19 vaccine side effects that resonate with women,” they wrote.

The group offers three ways to counter the false narrative. First, recognizing that anti-vaccine activists are networked, they propose to develop networked communities that can reach the public at the right time and in the right place with the right message about vaccines.

Second, they offer to get information outside of the usual public health agencies. “Countering the range of efforts by anti-vaccine activists and groups or individuals who influence or monetize disinformation efforts requires a wide range of expertise,” the authors wrote.

Third, they propose using coordinated communities to counter trends in anti-vaccine efforts.

“This action will include separating narratives of freedom from anti-vaccine attitudes and mitigating harassment by anti-vaccine activists against public health communicators,” they wrote.

The stakes are high according to the researchers.

“Without concerted efforts to counter the anti-vaccine movement, the United States faces an ever-increasing burden of morbidity and mortality from an increasingly under-immunized and vaccine-hesitant society,” they concluded. .

Other COVID-19 news you should know:

• New reports on the origins of the pandemic are rapidly generating misleading claims about the virus, including outlandish conspiracy theories. This week’s news that the Department of Energy has confirmed that a classified report has determined “with low confidence” that the virus escaped from a lab and did not jump from an animal to the man is a good example, according to the Associated Press. Within hours, online mentions of conspiracy theories involving COVID-19 began to surge, with many commentators claiming the classified report was proof they were right all along. The report has not been made public, and officials in Washington have pointed out that various US agencies disagree on the origin. Many scientists believe the most likely explanation is that the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 jumped from animals to humans, possibly at the Huanan market in Wuhan, a scenario supported by multiple studies and reports. The World Health Organization has said that while an animal origin remains the most likely, the possibility of a lab leak needs to be further investigated before it can be ruled out.

• The World Health Organization is still monitoring seven subvariants of omicron, according to its weekly epidemiological update, up from four two weeks ago. The seven are BF.7, BQ.1, BA.2.75, CH.1.1, XBB, XBB.1.5 and XBF. “These variants are being watched because of their observed transmission advantage over other circulating variants and additional amino acid changes that are known or suspected to confer a fitness advantage,” the agency wrote. The WHO said more than 4.8 million new COVID cases were reported in the 28-day period to February 26, down 76% from the previous 28-day period. Some 39,000 deaths have been reported, down 66%. As usual, he warned that the figures reported are underestimates of the real numbers, as shown by prevalence surveys.

• Britain’s former health minister denied wrongdoing this week after a newspaper published excerpts from private messages he sent during the early weeks of the coronavirus pandemic, the UK has reported. PA. The Daily Telegraph said exchanges show then-Health Secretary Matt Hancock ignored scientific advice to test everyone entering care homes for COVID-19. Hancock said the WhatsApp messages had been misleadingly edited, with key lines omitted to give a “distorted account”. The Telegraph said it got 2.3 million words from Isabel Oakeshott, a journalist who helped Hancock write his memoir. Oakeshott, a critic of the strict lockdowns imposed during the pandemic, defended the leaking of the messages, saying she did so to avoid a “whitewash” of the crisis.

Here’s what the numbers say:

The global tally of confirmed COVID-19 cases topped 675.5 million on Friday, while the death toll topped 6.87 million, according to data aggregated by Johns Hopkins University.

The United States leads the world with 103.5 million cases and 1,120,878 deaths. Johns Hopkins will stop tracking live data on March 10.

The CDC tracker shows that 230 million people living in the United States, or 69.3% of the total population, are fully vaccinated, meaning they have received their first shots.

So far, only 53.74 million Americans, or 16.2% of the total population, have had the updated COVID booster that targets both the original virus and omicron variants.

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