Executive Director, Canadian Public Health Association
Vaccines are making headlines around the world every day as we continue to grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic. Unfortunately, along with those headlines comes a slew of vaccine misinformation and disinformation intended to confuse, provoke, and ultimately dissuade the reader from being vaccinated. Even more discouraging, none of this is new or unique to COVID-19.
One hundred years ago, infectious diseases were the leading cause of death worldwide. In Canada, they now cause less than five percent of all deaths. Vaccination programs have probably saved more lives in Canada in the last 50 years than any other health intervention.
Vaccine misinformation (inaccuracies) and disinformation (falsehoods) are more contagious than infectious diseases and their impact can be dire. Every day we use social media and other online sources as a way to find health-related information. Finding information helps us to make informed decisions about our health. When the information we find is incorrect, it affects our ability to make decisions that are in our best interest.
So, what can you do?
Be aware that not all information is created equally. Anyone can publish information online and sources can sometimes be deceiving. Take the time to ask yourself a few questions about the source of the information. Is it clear who is behind a website or social media account? What’s their motive?
Attention-grabbing disinformation often motivates people to visit websites that include advertisements. Your visit creates revenue for the owner of that website and the content on it. Vaccine disinformation campaigns have also been used for political purposes — “weaponized health information” focused on vaccines has been disseminated by state actors in an attempt to promote social discord and polarization.
Ultimately, you need to use your best judgement and it’s best to stick with the websites of governments and health agencies or websites that display the Vaccine Safety Net seal.
Always remember that your health care provider can help you assess the quality of the information you discover and provide the support you need to make the best decision for you and your family.