COVID vaccine misinformation spreads digitally, leads to skepticism

As more COVID vaccines became available, a huge number of people say they won't get it, or fear it, or think it will make them sick.

For generations, the old and often debunked anti-vaccine movement still holds a lot of sway over a lot of folks. Many people will avoid the COVID vaccine due to deliberate misinformation.

The 198-year-old Lancet, is one of the world's leading peer-reviewed medical journals. Recently, it published a Center for Countering Digital Hate study which tracks and counters what it calls dangerous digital misinformation.

The study found that many groups against the use of vaccines, so called anti-vaxxers, use social media such as Facebook and YouTube, to pass on unfounded and untrue disinformation to some 39 million people who follow them.  

The groups often seek to sell products, solicit donations or disseminate conspiracy theories.

Dr. Margaret A. Liu is a world famous UCSF physician and researcher in vaccines and immunology and one of the founders of the field of DNA-based vaccines, the precursor to mRNA vaccines.

"Vaccines, in a way, have become a victim of their own success," said Dr. Liu.

Because of vaccines, hundreds of millions are alive today; many totally cured without long term consequences. In the COVID case, many of those ravaged and killed were hidden away in marginalized communities or care homes or  hospitals.

"People no longer see the impact of these devastating diseases," said Dr. Liu.

What about allergic reactions to the COVID vaccines?

"This is still very rare. It's 11 people out of a million is what they think," said the doctor.

What about the totally debunked claims that vaccines cause autism? "A claim that was made by a medical doctor who was actually being paid by lawyers for parents of children who had autism," said Liu.

What about the vaccine giving you the very disease you're trying to avoid? "With the COVID vaccine, as an example, it's actually just completely impossible," said Liu.

The World Health Organization says one of the oldest vaccines, for smallpox, saved two hundred million lives.

"Vaccines are actually the only intervention that have actually eliminated a disease from our planet," said Dr. Liu. And, to those who deny vaccines, masking and social distances, saying it's their right: "If you could keep all your bodily fluids to yourself and not share them with people then that would be a different issue but, in fact, you are imposing on other people's bodies," said Liu.

Though the COVID vaccine was rapidly developed, Doctor Liu says the underlying science goes back many decades.