Beware of misinformation about vaccines from folks with agendas

Photo by Joe Raedle, Getty Images

“Anti-vaccine groups are exploiting the suffering and death of people who happen to fall ill after receiving a covid shot, threatening to undermine the largest vaccination campaign in U.S. history,” reports Liz Szabo of Kaiser Health News.

Some activists are “fabricating stories of deaths that never occurred,” such as concocting a death certificate for a Chattanooga, Tenn., nurse who fainted when she got a coronavirus vaccination.

These are largely the same people who “have falsely claimed for decades that childhood vaccines cause autism,” and spun conspiracy theories involving government, corporation and the news media, Szabo reports.

The mass vaccination of millions gives these bad actors plenty of opportunities to mislead the public, because they exaggerate the very few cases of bad reactions to the vaccines. And journalists sometimes help them, says infectious-disease specialist Michael Osterholm, an adviser to President Biden.

“The media will write a story that John Doe got his vaccine at 8 a.m. and at 4 p.m. he had a heart attack,” Osterholm said on his weekly podcast. “They will make assumptions that it’s cause and effect.”

Osterholm, who runs the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, said that as the first round of general-public vaccinations starts with older people, many will have heart attacks, strokes or other serious medical episodes not related to vaccination.

“In a group of 10 million people, about the number of Americans who have been vaccinated so far, nearly 800 people ages 55 to 64 typically die of heart attacks or coronary disease in one week, Osterholm said. . . . Public health officials need to do a better job communicating the risks — real and imagined — from vaccines, said Osterholm.”

There’s always the possibility that a batch of vaccine won’t be up to par, and with hundreds of millions of doses to be produced in this case, it will happen, Osterholm told Szabo, who notes, “California authorities have recommended pausing vaccinations with a particular batch of covid vaccines made by Moderna because of a high rate of allergic reactions.”

“We have to follow up on every one of these cases,” Osterholm said. “I don’t want people to think that we’re sweeping them under the rug.”

Be wary of reports about such cases, especially from groups with an anti-vaccine agenda, says Dr. Peter Hotez, an infectious-disease specialist at the Baylor College of Medicine in Texas: “They will sensationalize anything that happens after someone gets a vaccine and attribute it to the vaccine.”

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