The dangers of health misinformation online

Anti-vaxxers continue to invent new harms caused by vaccines and spread these claims on social media. Some of these claims catch on even with no evidence because the Internet is largely unregulated.

It’s hard to believe that so many people remain unvaccinated against COVID, but they are forming opinions based on information they find online that’s inherently wrong.

Vaccine safety

  1. Vaccines are the single most significant public health innovation in the history of medicine. They’ve saved millions of lives.
  2. Vaccines eliminated smallpox from the planet. They have nearly (but not quite, due to anti-vax resistance) eliminated polio.
  3. The new mRNA vaccines for Covid-19 are remarkably effective, have few side effects, and are easy to modify as the virus mutates over time.
  4. Vaccines protect us so thoroughly against childhood infections that many formerly common diseases–including measles, mumps, and Haemophilus influenza–have almost disappeared.
  5. Child mortality from infectious has plummeted in countries with robust early childhood vaccine programs.
  6. The vaccine against human papillomavirus (HPV) will prevent thousands of cervical, throat, and other cancers, saving lives for decades.
  7. Vaccines train our immune system to recognize and fight off infections, often stopping the disease before we even have symptoms.

Despite these facts, too many people don’t get vaccinated, which, in turn, could put us all in danger. Viruses adapt to the environment and mutate. A new strain of COVID could endanger us all, not to mention healthcare workers.

Vaccines don’t cause autism or any other neurological disorder. Studies involving hundreds of thousands of people have been done to investigate this possibility, starting in the early 2000s, and all of the science points the same way: vaccines do not cause autism.

Anti-vaxxers continue to invent new harms caused by vaccines and spread these claims on social media. Even with no evidence, some of these claims catch on because the Internet allows them to propagate.

Social media could stop medical misinformation if they had the will, but with all the layoffs in tech, we’re probably seeing a lot more medical misinformation. The FDA regulates the information on pharma websites about medical conditions and medications. Should the FDA be responsible for monitoring the web for medical misinformation? That probably is too big a job, but individual websites and social media have a responsibility to eliminate fraudulent medical information.

People who choose not to vaccinate are dangerous to themselves and others and are gambling with their lives. That gamble should not include us.