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Covid-19 misinformation fuels anti-vaccine movement

#Covid19 #misinformation #fuels #antivaccine #movement

More and more parents are questioning the need for routine vaccinations for young children. Adults are also skipping shots, even with vaccines with a long safety record.

The trend comes amid a wave of misinformation and disinformation about Covid-19 and the vaccines that have helped curb deaths from the pandemic. The politicization of Covid-19 vaccination has fueled the anti-vaccine movement and contributed to the decline in routine vaccinations against measles, polio and other dangerous diseases.

“They ask if these are really necessary or if we can give them at a later date,” said Jason Terk, a Texas pediatrician and spokesman for the American Academy of Pediatrics.

“That’s not the majority of parents, but we’re seeing a higher number.”

The anti-vaccine movement has mushroomed as its messages on social media are amplified by conservative political figures and foreign influencers whose vaccine disinformation efforts predated the pandemic.

As rates of routine vaccination fall, there are growing concerns about a resurgence of diseases that have been largely eradicated in many parts of the world.

In the United States, the percentage of preschoolers with recommended immunizations fell one percentage point to 94 percent in the 2020-21 school year, equivalent to about 35,000 unvaccinated children.

“I call it parallel contagion,” Terk said. “This seems to have its origins in reluctance to vaccinate against Covid-19 and an increasing distrust of vaccines and the bodies we have come to rely on to keep us healthy and well.”

Dramatic changes were seen in some states, particularly during the peak of the pandemic: Researchers found a 47 percent drop in vaccination rates in Texas among five-month-olds and 58 percent among 16-month-olds between 2019 and 2020.

The researchers, writing in the scientific journal Vaccine, said the declines were due to shelter-in-place restrictions and vaccine exemptions, but also to “an aggressive anti-vaccine movement in Texas.”

Washington state reported a 13 percent drop in childhood immunization rates in 2021 from pre-pandemic levels, and Michigan’s infant immunization rate fell to 69.9 percent last year, its lowest level in a decade.

– Adults too –

Adult and adolescent vaccination rates for vaccines to protect against diseases such as influenza, hepatitis, measles, tetanus and shingles have also fallen, according to health consultancy Avalere, which analyzes insurance claims.

This has resulted in an estimated 37 million missed vaccine doses in adults and children aged seven and older from January 2020 to July 2021, according to Avalere.

Drops early in the pandemic can be attributed to community orders and social distancing, but “there is a risk of spillover” of misinformation about Covid vaccines affecting other vaccines that have a long-standing safety record, noted Avalere Management director Jason Hall.

Social media has helped form a coalition that includes outright anti-vaccine, libertarian and conservative politicians. Those segments were reinforced by disinformation actors from Russia and elsewhere, said David Broniatowski, a professor at George Washington University and associate director of the school’s Institute for Data, Democracy and Politics.

“People have been against vaccines for as long as vaccines have existed, but they’ve gotten more sophisticated in the last 10 years, and a lot of that comes down to the ability to organize across borders on social media,” Broniatowski said. researching vaccine disinformation.

He noted that while not necessarily coordinating, anti-vaccination activists, libertarians and foreign agents “have found common ground” in opposing vaccination mandates.

“One of the most important changes we’ve seen is the shift from focusing on vaccines per se as a health issue to a civil rights and political issue,” he added.

According to a 2021 YouGov poll, conspiracy theories have surged during the pandemic, with 28 percent of Americans and a sizable number elsewhere saying the truth about the harmful effects of vaccines is being “deliberately concealed.”

– Foreign Actors –

Broniatowski said foreign disinformation agents “use vaccines as a wedge issue that can mobilize part of the population.”

A 2018 paper in the American Journal of Public Health co-authored by Broniatowski found that anti-vaccination Twitter activity from 2014 to 2017 was boosted by Russian trolls to encourage discord and undermine trust in the healthcare system.

Research by the Center for European Policy Analysis showed that both China and Russia have promoted misinformation about Covid-19 vaccines, in part to show Western governments are incompetent and cannot be trusted.

“These actors have made a concerted effort to lower the profile of science because it serves their political purposes,” Broniatowski said.

The problem is also growing worldwide. A United Nations report last year found that 23 million children worldwide missed routine vaccinations in 2020. In the Americas, the percentage of fully vaccinated children has fallen to 82 percent from 91 percent in 2016, due to factors including funding constraints, vaccine misinformation, and instability.

This is likely to lead to further health risks from diseases later on, most of which have been contained.

“We had certain protection thresholds to prevent these diseases from being relevant from a public health perspective,” Terk said.

“The more people push back, the more likely we’re going to have vulnerabilities.”

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#Covid19 #misinformation #fuels #antivaccine #movement

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