DURBAN – While vaccines for diseases such as polio, smallpox and measles have benefited millions, experts say the task of introducing a vaccine for the Covid-19 is an uphill struggle in the world. This is due to a flood of online misinformation is feeding on mistrust of modern medicine and government.
David Broniatowski, an associate professor at George Washington University, said: “The coronavirus has created this perfect storm of misinformation.”
In recent weeks, vaccine opponents in the US have made several claims, including allegations that vaccine trials will be dangerously rushed or that Dr Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious diseases expert, is blocking cures to enrich vaccine makers.
They have also claimed that Microsoft founder Bill Gates wants to use a vaccine to inject microchips into people – or to cull 15 percent of the world’s population.
Leader of an anti-vaccine group called My Kids, My Choice Rita Palma said: “Many of us are anxiety stricken at the thought of being forced to get a vaccine. I will never choose to have a Covid-19 vaccine. I don’t want the government forcing it on my community or my family.”
World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has criticised vaccine sceptics for spreading misinformation at a time when many families are delaying or skipping routine childhood immunizations because they’re afraid of Covid-19 exposure in doctors’ offices.
“Myths and misinformation about vaccines are adding fuel to the fire,” he said.
In Africa, experts point to entrenched suspicions that the continent’s role is to be guinea pigs for novel drugs. Comments made last month by two French researchers live on television unleashed a tsunami of misinformation and anti-vaccine sentiments online.
South African Medical Research Council’s senior scientist, Sara Cooper, said misinformation had to be tackled by targeting underlying sentiments.
“Rather than dismissing these as ‘false rumours’ or ‘erroneous beliefs’, these concerns should be heard and recognised,” said Cooper.
She said ethical research led by African scientists rather than by “top-down” foreign programmes could “go a long way in rebuilding community trust and reducing resistance”.
A report from a European Union disinformation task force also found numerous conspiracy theories in English-language Russian media, including state-run RT, claiming an eventual vaccine will be used to inject nanoparticles into people.
“When pro-Kremlin disinformation outlets spread anti-vaccine tropes, they become responsible for those who will hesitate to seek professional medical care,” said the report.
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