ACP Continues to Advocate Against Misinformation and Disinformation on Vaccines

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In a recent amicus brief, ACP joined other leading health care organizations in supporting the U.S. Attorney General in combatting vaccine misinformation

Jan. 26, 2024 (ACP) -- The American College of Physicians is continuing its mission to dispel vaccine misinformation and disinformation and safeguard public health.

Most recently, ACP contributed to an amicus brief along with the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Medical Association and other leading health care groups outlining the dangers of public health misinformation in Murthy v. Missouri. The original lawsuit was filed by the attorneys general of Missouri and Louisiana and alleges that the Biden administration violated the First Amendment by colluding with Meta, X (Twitter) and YouTube to engage in censorship involving COVID-19.

In July, a lower court judge issued an order limiting communications between government agencies and social media platforms about all content. The Supreme Court placed a temporary hold on the lower court judge's order in October. In the amicus brief, the health care groups write that the government's interest in the case is “compelling”: “combatting vaccine misinformation is, at its simplest, the government trying to prevent factually incorrect statements from costing people their lives.”

“The amicus brief is related to misinformation and the intersection of misinformation and social media, but very specifically related to COVID-19 and vaccination,” said Dr. Eileen Barrett, chair of the ACP Board of Regents, who submitted material for inclusion in the brief.

“I don't know if I'll ever forget the guy in his 40s who didn't get the vaccine because [of] what he saw on social media about not needing it … [he] was quite ill and as a result of severe sepsis developed a perforated stomach. He was so remorseful about not being vaccinated, and it was terrible to see him have so much regret. I encouraged him that it could help him feel better if he encouraged his friends to get vaccinated,” she writes. Part of this narrative appears in the Murthy v. Missouri amicus brief.

“Disinformation has had a startling negative effect on the public's health during the pandemic as it related to vaccinations, COVID-19 prevention and COVID-19 transmission,” Barrett said.

Vaccine misinformation and disinformation were an issue well before the pandemic. “COVID-19 was like adding kerosene to a fire. During the pandemic, we were disconnected from each other, and the way we received information was fractionated,” she explained. “People were on their screen, so they had more time to be exposed to messages or online communities, some of which may not provide accurate or reliable health information.”

The amicus brief is only one part of the ACP multifaceted mission to combat misinformation and disinformation surrounding vaccines. ACP has done outreach on social media, and in partnership with YouTube, ACP created video series addressing misinformation and disinformation on vaccines and other topics, including the “Physician to Physician Conversations” videos and “Ask Your Internal Medicine Physician” videos for a patient audience.

ACP has also published timely evidence-based scientific content regularly, including Rapid Living Practice Points and Clinical Guidelines to counteract misinformation during all stages of the pandemic. The ACP journals, Annals of Internal Medicine and Annals of Internal Medicine Clinical Cases, published more than 500 articles and case reports related to COVID-19, among other COVID-19-related content. In addition, ACP activated its COVID-19 Resource Center in April 2020. This center provided real-time information and resources during the pandemic, including the Physicians' Guide to COVID-19.

Recently, ACP joined forces with The Public Good Projects to provide access to curated information on how to identify and respond to trending health narratives. ACP also serves on the advisory committee for the Council of Medical Specialty Societies, National Academy of Medicine and World Health Organization initiative to Identify Credible Sources of Health Information for social media companies. Additionally, ACP has joined the Coalition for Trust in Health and Science initiative to curb misinformation and promote science-based information.

“We want to ‘vaccinate’ people with the idea that there is disinformation and show them how and where to get reputable information,” Barrett explained.

Time is of the essence. The newest data on vaccine uptake from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show marked decreases, and the latest recommendations and vaccine schedule from the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP), which were published Jan. 12 in Annals of Internal Medicine, include four new vaccines and other schedule changes.

In an accompanying editorial, members of the Council for Quality Health Communication call on the CDC, the group that oversees ACIP, to do better when it comes to the quality of health communication it disseminates about adult vaccination. “Too many adults today are choosing to opt out of vaccinations that could enhance their quality of life and lower their costs of care,” the council writes. The council has suggested the CDC highlight schedule changes that affect the largest numbers of adults and provide information on why these changes were made.

Every ACP member can help to spread these messages. “In addition to talking with patients, family members and friends and in communities formally and informally, we should not be afraid to reach out to elected leaders, including mayors and city council members,” Barrett said.

Members can also pen op-eds in local or national papers addressing the risks of vaccine misinformation, she suggested.

More Information

More information on ACP efforts to fight medical misinformation and disinformation is available on the ACP website.

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