U.S. health officials are pushing Americans to get vaccinated against the flu to prevent hospitals already struggling to fight COVID-19 from being overwhelmed this winter, but false claims threaten their efforts.
Incorrect information on social media, especially that a flu shot increases the risk of getting coronavirus or causes you to test positive for COVID-1
A false claim circulating on Facebook and Instagram said a flu shot would increase the likelihood of COVID-19 infection by 36 percent. Another on Instagram said Sanofi’s flu vaccine Fluzone was 2.4 times more lethal than COVID-19.
A national study from the University of Michigan showed that one in three parents planned to skip the flu vaccine against their children this year, with mothers and fathers pointing to misinformation, including the belief that it is not effective, as a cause.
“Primary care staff have a really important role to play in this flu season,” said Sarah Clark, a researcher at the Michigan Medicine Child Health Evaluation and Research Center who led the study.
“They need to send parents a clear and strong message about the importance of the flu vaccine.”
But with daily COVID-19 infections rising to record levels in several U.S. states, false information remains a barrier to people being vaccinated.
Jeanine Guidry, an assistant professor at Virginia Commonwealth University who studies health messages on social media, said, “There’s so much misinformation related to COVID, and I really think it spills over” to the flu.
Amelia Jamison, a researcher in misinformation and a doctoral student at Johns Hopkins University, agreed.
“Influenza is caught in some of the stories we see about coronavirus,” she said.
Vaccination hoblet in 2020
According to the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC), only 49.2 percent of the population received a flu vaccine during the 2018-19 season.
Apart from misinformation, measures aimed at limiting the spread of COVID-19 resulted in fewer personal preventive medical visits, with many receiving the vaccine. And other flu clinics typically offered by employers, churches or schools have been on hold.
High unemployment due to the economic breakdown of the pandemic has also left millions of Americans without health insurance, meaning states will have to pick up the cost of vaccines for more patients.
While the effectiveness of the flu shot may vary depending on whether the influenza strain circulating in communities matches the strain in the vaccine, the CDC said it prevents millions of diseases each year.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends the vaccine to all children over six months.
Influenza vaccine expert Danuta Skowronski of the British Columbia Center for Disease Control said: “We saw no correlation in children or adults between receiving the flu vaccine and coronavirus risk.”
Response on social media
While social media platforms host misinformation, they are also taking steps to disseminate reliable guidance on vaccines.
This week, Facebook announced it would begin directing U.S. users to information on where they could get the flu, promising to reject ads that oppose vaccination.
Prior to the pandemic, Twitter and Pinterest introduced policies to redirect searches on 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 developed to encourage user engagement on social media “could be used more appropriately to guide people to credible and evidence-based information,” Dunn said.
He also advocated the creation of more “communities with pre-vaccine advocacy that are welcoming, honest and adapted to a diversity of worldviews.”
Libby Richards, an associate professor at the Purdue School of Nursing, said “a flu shot is more important than ever this year” and warns that severe cases of COVID-19 and flu require the same life-saving equipment.
“Receiving the flu vaccine will not only provide personalized health protection, it will also help reduce the burden of respiratory diseases on our already very congested healthcare system.”
Richards urged people to take the time to fact-check information.
“There are many myths about the flu vaccine that can be clearly dismissed with a little background reading,” she said.
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© 2020 AFP
Citation: When American matches COVID-19 spread misinfo with flu shots (2020, October 17) October 17, 2020 from https://medicalxpress.com/news/2020-10-covid-flu-shot-misinfo.html
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