U.S. Surgeon General Issues Advisory During COVID-19 Vaccination Push Warning American Public About Threat of Health Misinformation
On July 15, 2021, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced that U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy had issued a Surgeon General’s Advisory warning the American public about the urgent threat of health misinformation. Health misinformation, including disinformation, has threatened the U.S. response to COVID-19.
Health misinformation is information that is false, inaccurate, or misleading according to the best available evidence. As of late May 2021, 67% of unvaccinated adults had heard at least one COVID-19 vaccine myth and either believed it to be true or were not sure of its veracity. Health misinformation has already caused significant harm, dividing families and communities and undermining vaccination efforts. An analysis of millions of social media posts found that false news stories were 70 percent more likely to be shared than true stories. And a recent study showed that even brief exposure to misinformation made people less likely to want a COVID-19 vaccine.
This advisory lays out how the nation can confront health misinformation by helping individuals, families, and communities better identify and limit its spread, and issues a number of ways institutions in education, media, medicine, research, and government stakeholders can approach this issue. It also underscores the urgent need for technology and social media companies to address the way misinformation and disinformation spread on their platforms, threatening people’s health.