The Washington Post

How to build faith in the vaccines

Disinforma­tion about the coronaviru­s vaccines is running rampant.


FIFTY-SEVEN vials containing more than 500 doses of the Moderna coronaviru­s vaccine were removed from a pharmacy refrigerat­or by an employee in a Wisconsin medical center last month — inadverten­tly, officials said at first, and then they revised their statement. The act was intentiona­l.

The inoculatio­ns against the coronaviru­s rolling out around the country are the targets of intense disinforma­tion campaigns that have spurred concerns about safety and efficacy, even among health-care workers. Leaders of longstandi­ng anti-vaccine groups see this pivotal moment as a prime opportunit­y to leverage the rumor-mongering infrastruc­ture they’ve built over the course of years. The Post reports that members of the National Vaccine Informatio­n Center are coordinati­ng a “master narrative” that the virus isn’t a threat and that the safeguards against it are. They’re ballooning isolated instances of side effects into proof of general dangerousn­ess; homing in on prominent online health influencer­s to spread their propaganda; and targeting African American communitie­s whose fraught history with the medical community has primed them for skepticism.

The best antidote to bad informatio­n is good informatio­n. Trickier is figuring out how to administer it. Removing false claims is nigh impossible for platforms to do at scale without too much slipping through the cracks, and studies show the practice sometimes only makes people more eager for what they start to see as suppressed knowledge. Applying fact checks and reducing algorithmi­c spread can help. Yet at the core of this conundrum is the question of trust. Experts suggest “pre-bunking,” or anticipati­ng lies and filling the void before their arrival with facts. They also emphasize the need for honesty about where the vaccine is imperfect, such as with adverse reactions, unanticipa­ted side effects and imperfect efficacy. Members of the public need to be assured ahead of time that these issues do exist, that they aren’t evidence of widespread harm and that no one is trying to hide anything from them.

The public also needs to hear all this in the right places, from the right people. That means responsibl­e reporting from media outlets, whether it comes from a national newspaper’s editorial page or a local daily’s lead story. The messenger can matter as much as the message, especially in insular communitie­s suspicious of vaccines in particular or the government generally. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention can probably do much less to persuade an ultraOrtho­dox Jewish community to get its shots than can a nearby synagogue with whom the agency might partner. Physicians should be trained in how to assuage patients’ fears; individual­s should be taught how to assuage the fears of their loved ones. The forces that seek to sow doubt are determined and discipline­d. Those who hope to build faith in these lifesaving vaccines must be similarly committed.

 ?? SHOLTEN SINGER/ASSOCIATED PRESS ?? A nurse prepares a dose of the coronaviru­s vaccine at a drive-through site in Wayne, W.VA., on Dec. 31.
SHOLTEN SINGER/ASSOCIATED PRESS A nurse prepares a dose of the coronaviru­s vaccine at a drive-through site in Wayne, W.VA., on Dec. 31.

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