Misleading information is spread on social media, especially those indicating that receiving a flu vaccine increases the risk of infection with the emerging corona or may lead to the emergence of a positive result with a Covid-19 examination.
A misleading claim circulating on Facebook and Instagram indicates that receiving a flu vaccine increases the risk of catching Covid-19 by 36%. And another spread on Instagram indicates that the influenza vaccine produced by the “Sanofi” company and called “Fluzone” is 2.4 times more deadly than Covid-19.
A study conducted by the University of Michigan found that one in 3 parents decided to forgo giving their children the flu vaccine this year, as parents attributed the cause to misleading information, including those indicating that it is ineffective.
“Primary care providers have a really important role to play in the current flu season,” said Sarah Clark, a specialist at Michigan Medical Center for Research and Child Health Assessment, who led the study.
“They should deliver a clear and strong message to parents about the importance of the flu vaccine,” she added.
But with the number of daily cases of Covid-19 rising to record levels in several US states, disinformation is a barrier to vaccinating residents.
“There is a lot of misinformation linked to Covid, and I think it extends as well” to influenza, said Janine Gaydry, an assistant professor at Virginia Commonwealth University who studies health messages on social media.
Disinformation researcher and PhD student at Johns Hopkins University, Amelia Jamieson, agrees with this view and says, “Influenza has become part of the narratives that we are seeing about the emerging corona virus.”
Vaccines falter in 2020
The US Centers for Disease Control reports that only 49.2% of people received the flu vaccine in the 2018-2019 season.
In addition to the misleading information, measures aimed at containing the outbreak of Covid-19 have reduced personal preventive visits to clinics, during which many receive the vaccine. The flu vaccine doses that are usually provided by employers, churches and schools have also stopped.
Millions of Americans remained without health insurance due to the increase in the number of unemployed due to the economic repercussions of the epidemic, which means that the states will have to bear the costs of vaccinations for more patients.
While the effectiveness of a flu vaccine can fluctuate based on the question of whether the circulating flu strain matches that of the vaccine, the CDC said it avoids millions of infections each year.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that all children over the age of six months be vaccinated.
“We have not seen any link among children or adults between receiving the influenza vaccine and (increasing) the risk of the emerging corona virus,” said Danuta Skuronsky, an expert in influenza vaccinations at the British Columbia Center for Disease Control.
Social media response
While social media leaves the possibility of misinformation spreading, it is also moving to publish reliable advice about vaccines.
And Facebook announced this week that it would begin directing users in the United States to information about where they would have to go to get a flu vaccination, and pledged to reject ads that urge not to receive vaccines.
Before the pandemic, Twitter and Pinterest had established policies to redirect searches using certain keyword-related vaccines to public health organizations.
But Adam Dunn, director of biomedical and digital health information systems at the University of Sydney, indicated that this is not enough.
He said that the methods developed to encourage user engagement on social media “can be used in a more discreet manner to guide people to credible and evidence-based information.”
He also called for the creation of more “vaccine advocacy societies that are honest and compatible with a diversity of views around the world.”
As for the assistant professor at the Broadway College of Nursing, P. Richards, she said that “getting the flu vaccine is more important than ever this year,” warning that the most severe cases of Covid-19 and influenza require the same equipment to save the lives of the infected.
And she stressed that “receiving the influenza vaccine will not only provide personal health protection, but will also help reduce the burden of respiratory diseases on our already stressed health system.”
Richards encouraged people to take their time to verify the information was correct.
“There are many myths associated with the flu vaccine that can be cleared up with a little reading,” she said.
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