U.S. health officials are urging Americans to vaccinate Americans against the flu to prevent overcrowding of hospitals that are already busy fighting COVID-19 this winter, but false allegations threaten their efforts.
Misinformation on social media, in particular that the flu vaccine will increase the risk of coronavirus infection or lead to a positive COVID-19 test – it will not – undermines public health reports.
One false statement circulating on Facebook and Instagram says that taking the flu will increase the chances of contracting COVID-19 by 36 percent. Another on Instagram said that the Sanofi Fluzone flu vaccine was 2.4 times more lethal than COVID-19.
A national study from the University of Michigan found that one in three parents planned to miss the flu vaccine for their children this year, and mothers and parents pointed to misinformation, including the belief that it was not effective.
“Primary care providers play a really important role this flu season,” said Sarah Clark, a researcher at the Michigan Children’s Health Assessment and Research Center that led the study.
“They should send parents a clear and unambiguous message about the importance of the flu vaccine.”
But daily infections with COVID-19 are rising to record levels in several US states, and false information remains a barrier for people receiving vaccinations.
Janine Hydry, an associate professor at the Commonwealth University of Virginia who studies social media messaging on social media, said: “There is so much misinformation associated with COVID, and I really believe it’s spilling over” to the flu.
Amelia Jamison, a misinformation researcher and doctoral student at Johns Hopkins University, agreed.
“The flu is involved in some of the stories we see about the coronavirus,” she said.
Vaccination died out in 2020
According to the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC), only 49.2 percent of people received the flu vaccine during the 2018-19 season.
In addition to misinformation, measures to curb the spread of COVID-19 have reduced the number of personal preventive visits, during which many receive the vaccine. Other anti-influenza clinics, usually offered by employers, churches or schools, have been suspended.
High unemployment due to the economic consequences of the pandemic has also left millions of Americans without health insurance, which means that states will have to reimburse the cost of the vaccine for more patients.
Although the effectiveness of influenza vaccination can vary depending on whether the community-circulating influenza strain matches the vaccine strain, the CDC said it prevents millions of illnesses each year.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends the vaccine to all children over the age of six months.
Influenza vaccine expert Danuta Skowronski of the Center for Disease Control in British Columbia said: “We have not seen a link between children and adults between the receipt of the flu vaccine and the risk of coronavirus.”
The answer in social networks
Although social media platforms post misinformation, they also take steps to disseminate reliable vaccine recommendations.
This week, Facebook announced that it would start directing American users to information on where to get the flu, and promised to reject advertising that discourages vaccination.
Prior to the pandemic, Twitter and Pinterest introduced a policy of redirecting search queries for certain vaccine-related keywords to public health organizations.
But Adam Dunn, head of biomedical informatics and digital health at the University of Sydney, said more could be done.
Methods designed to encourage users to engage in social media “could be used more wisely to guide people to reliable and informed information,” Dunn said.
He also called for the creation of more “vaccination advocacy communities that are friendly, honest and consistent with the diversity of worldviews.”
Libby Richards, an associate professor at Purdue School of Nursing, said “this year the flu vaccine is more important than ever,” warning that severe cases of COVID-19 and the flu require the same life-saving equipment.
“Getting a flu vaccine will not only provide personal health, but also help reduce the burden of respiratory disease on our already very stretched health care system.”
Richards urged people not to rush to verify the facts.
“There are many myths about the flu vaccine that can be unequivocally refuted by reading a little information,” she said.
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© 2020 AFP
Citation: During the US war against COVID-19, the dissemination of unknown information about influenza (2020, October 17) was obtained on October 18, 2020 from https://medicalxpress.com/news/2020-10-covid-flu-shot-misinfo. html
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