US surgeon general Vivek Murthy has blamed “health misinformation” on social media for vaccine hesitancy and called for an all-out social effort to combat the misinformation malaise, telling reporters that he had lost ten family members in the US and India to Covid-19.
“Health misinformation is a serious threat to public health. Limiting its spread is a moral and civic imperative,” Murthy said at a White House briefing on Thursday, after a startling disclosure of the extent of his personal loss amid rising cases in the US and elsewhere in the world.
Murthy did not reveal the names or how close the family members were to him, but during his confirmation hearing in February, he mentioned that his great uncle, Raman, had died of the virus.
Urging technology companies to tweak their algorithms to defeat false information about Covid-19, vaccines and raise the volume of credible voices on social media platforms, Murthy said roughly two-thirds of people who haven’t gotten the vaccination believe, to some degree, common myths about the shots. Some of this misinformation has been amplified by social media, he said.
“I say that as someone who has lost 10 family members to Covid-19 and who wishes each and every day that they had had the opportunity to get vaccinated,” he said, going up to the White House podium to make the case.
The London-born doctor’s comments followed the release of an advisory from his office on confronting Covid-19 misinformation, including suggestions for educators, health professionals and the media to prevent false notions of the vaccine. “Health misinformation has sowed confusion, reduced trust in public health measures, and hindered efforts to get Americans vaccinated… (it) hasn’t just harmed our physical health. It has also divided our families, friends, and communities,” the advisory read.
The renewed pitch from the White House lectern follows a flagging vaccine campaign in the US amid an uptick in Covid-19 cases caused by the delta variant. Cases have doubled over the past fortnight with nearly 25,000 infections daily, mainly in Republican states and counties where there are low vaccination rates because of propaganda against vaccines.
There has also been an uptick in cases even in urban centres such as New York City and Los Angeles. Los Angeles County said on Thursday that face masks would again be required indoors, even for those who had been fully vaccinated.