Tag: covid misinformation

Medical Bodies Push Back against Commission for Gender Equality’s Statement

Image source: NCI on Unsplash

The South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC), along with other professional medical and scientific institutions released a statement  distancing themselves from the Commission for Gender Equality’s (CGE) press release of 16 January, 2022, titled “Warning Against Imposing Mandatory Covid-19 Vaccination on Employees and Students”. [PDF]

The CGE cited an article published in Obstetrics and Gynaecology which found that women receiving Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna or J&J COVID vaccines, vaccine administration was associated with less than a one-day change in cycle length for both vaccine-dose cycles compared with pre-vaccine cycles. The article concluded that clinically meaningful change in menstrual cycle duration associated with COVID vaccination was found. 

The CGE used this study as justification, cautioning businesses and institutions against mandatory vaccination and recommended against sanctions for employees who chose to remain vaccinated.

The signatories expressed their concern at the contents of the statement which is at odds with the scientific understanding of COVID vaccinations, a concern which is compounded by the “enormous influence” of the GCE.

They accept that the vaccine mandates are subject to legal scrutiny, but take issue with the commission “trying to bolster its argument by wrongly insinuating that COVID vaccination has the potential to harm women’s health.”

They also point out that the commission seems to disregard the much greater risks to women and their unborn babies of COVID infection, while misinterpreting evidence on minor menstrual cycle lengthening. This creates fear and confusion in vaccinated women, and may increase vaccine hesitancy.

“It fails to appreciate that one in six unvaccinated pregnant women admitted to hospital in South Africa with COVID infection requires mechanical ventilation, and one in 16 has a fatal outcome,” the signatories stated.

They noted that COVID vaccination provides upwards of 80% protection against severe disease, hospitalisation and death.

They endorse the view of the College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of South Africa, which draws on research of the highest quality, that the menstrual effects are minor.

The evidence is “indisputable” that COVID vaccination is safe, does not negatively affect women’s bodies and saves the lives of women, they stress. Statements to the contrary are strongly repudiated.

“We are of the view that the CGE, like all state institutions, medical and scientific bodies, social partners and civil society formations working in the fields of women’s rights, empowerment and equality, should urge women to get vaccinated and advance and defend their rights to all relevant information about and access to vaccination.”

The signatories call on the CGE to withdraw its 16 January statement and to share with it scientific facts on COVID vaccination and women’s health.

Source: South African Medical Research Council

COVID Misinformation Less Prevalent than Believed

Photo by Markus Winkler on Unsplash

Contrary to what might be expected, misinformation about COVID was less prevalent than for other health topics, researchers found.

Before the COVID pandemic, health misinformation was already widely spread. While all types of information about COVID (including misinformation) were popular between March and May 2020, posts about COVID were more likely to come from governments and academic institutions. Often, these posts were more likely to go viral than posts from sources that routinely spread misinformation.

“At the start of the pandemic, governments and organisations around the world started paying attention to the problem of health misinformation online,” said David Broniatowski, an associate professor at the George Washington University. “But when you compare it to what was going on before the pandemic, you start to see that health misinformation was already widespread. What changed is that, when  COVID-19 hit, governments and social media platforms started paying attention and taking action.”

The researchers collected public posts on Twitter and Facebook at the outset of the pandemic, between March and May 2020, when content about COVID was growing rapidly. They compared those to posts on other health topics from the same time period in 2019, and looked at the credibility of the websites that each post shared. More credible sources included government and academic sources as well as the traditional news media. Sources deemed “not credible” comprised conspiracy-oriented sites and state-sponsored sites known for spreading  propaganda, which were 3.67 times more likely to spread misinformation than credible sites.

“Misinformation has always been present, even at higher proportions before COVID started. Many people knew this, which makes the ensuing misinformation spread during COVID entirely predictable,” said study co-author Mark Dredze, an associate professor at Johns Hopkins University. “Had we been more proactive in fighting misinformation, we may not have been in an anti-vaccination crisis today.”

“These findings suggest that the ‘infodemic’ of misinformation is a general feature of health information online, not one restricted to COVID-19,” Broniatowski said. “Clearly there is a lot of misinformation about COVID, but attempts to combat it might be better informed by comparison to the broader health misformation ecosystem.”

Source: George Washington University

Feeling of Invulnerability against COVID Leads to Vaccine Refusal

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

An international survey has found that people who do not believe that being infected with COVID could seriously threaten their health are both less likely to believe in the importance of preventing spread of the disease and less willing to get vaccinated. 

To contain COVID, it may be critical for individuals to feel concern about taking action to prevent transmission within their community. However  such concerns and actions could be impacted by a number of both individual and cultural factors. Leonhardt and colleagues hypothesised that one factor influencing pandemic concerns could be people’s perceived invincibility to COVID. The findings were presented in PLOS ONE.

To test this idea, the researchers analysed responses from over 200 000 people across 51 countries from an ongoing online survey. The survey included a question about how serious it would be to get infected with COVID, as well as questions about willingness to get vaccinated and taking action to reduce spread in one’s community. The researchers also accounted for participants’ overall health, age, sex, and level of education.

Respondents who reported feeling more  invincibile to COVID were less willing to get vaccinated, the researchers found, and also less likely to believe in the importance of individual actions to reduce transmission.

The strength of this link varied between countries. Individuals with high perceived invincibility living in countries with a greater emphasis on individual freedoms and autonomy, such as the US, were less willing to get vaccinated and less willing to take action than individuals with high perceived invincibility living in cultures with greater emphasis on collective action.

The authors say their findings highlight the importance of considering both individual and cultural factors when addressing pandemics. They suggest that suppression efforts employ messaging underscoring the importance of collective action, especially in individualistic cultures. Meanwhile, future research could further explore the impact of cultural factors on health beliefs and behaviours.

The authors added: “While feeling invincible may be beneficial in overcoming economic hardships or during periods of war, the results of our study suggest that it threatens the likelihood that people get vaccinated against COVID, and this is especially the case in individualistic countries, such as the USA, where people tend to focus on their own health rather than the collective health of their community.”

Source: EurekaAlert!

Two Ivermectin Deaths Reported in US State

Source: Unsplash

Two deaths in the US state of New Mexico have been linked to misuse of ivermectin, the anti-parasitic medicine that has repeatedly been used by people as an anti-COVID medication.

The patients were among 14 in the state who had been hospitalised after being poisoned by the use of ivermectin, which has been widely promoted.

Dr David Scrase, the acting head of the state health department, said the two patients who died (38 and 79 years old) had both contracted the coronavirus and attempted to treat it themselves with ivermectin, leading to kidney failure in one patient.

“It’s the wrong medicine for something really serious,” Dr Scrase said.

The American Association of Poison Control Centers reported 1440 cases of ivermectin poisoning up to 20 September, more than three times seen in the same period in 2019 and 2020. A majority of this year’s reports came over the past few months as people sought prescriptions after false claims about the drug’s effectiveness in COVID patients started to circulate on social media, podcasts and talk radio. Many other states are seeing increasing cases of ivermectin poisoning.

Dr Susan Smolinske, the director of the New Mexico Poison and Drug Information Center, said that about half of the reported cases of ivermectin poisoning this year were people who took the drug to prevent COVID.

While certain versions of ivermectin are prescribed to humans to treat head lice and other parasites, other more concentrated formulations are commonly used in the equine and livestock industries to combat worms and parasites.

Previously, Dr Smolinske said, many of the incidents in New Mexico involved children mistakenly taking chewable tablets intended for dogs, however the poison centres had recently seen more instances of people taking concentrated forms of the drug intended for large animals, which may contain other ingredients not intended for human use.

“Most of our cases are of the horse or dewormer or pour-on product, so they’re highly concentrated compared to those tablets for dogs,” said Dr Susan Smolinske, the director of the New Mexico Poison and Drug Information Center.

Dr Smolinske said misuse of the drug can cause drowsiness, dizziness, tremors or even a coma. “It gets into the brain, and if you take a high enough dose, it has difficulty getting out of the brain,” she said.

Source: New York Times

Now Iodine is the In-thing for COVID

A dangerous new trend has emerged on social media, which involves a new COVID ‘cure’ by gargling the widely used antiseptic, povidone-iodine (PVP).

This trend has been sparked by an online video in Thai which has been widely shared on social media, featuring someone who claims to be a doctor. However this has been debunked. The trend is also cause for concern as the PVP may accidentally be swallowed. 

PVP, also sold under the name Betadine, is used for disinfection in surgical procedures and wound treatment. Gargling with 0.5% PVP has been shown to reduce the symptoms of sore throat associated with COVID, but has not been adequately shown to relieve any other symptoms.  
The immediate side effects of ingesting any PVP antiseptic include nausea, vomiting, general weakness, and diarrhoea. In severe cases, PVP ingestion can result in acute renal failure, cardiovascular collapse, liver function impairment, shortness of breath, low blood pressure, and even death.

In one study, researchers assessed the usage of 0.5% povidone-iodine mouthwash in patients as a way of reducing viral load during dental procedures, reducing possible exposure of healthcare workers. However, there is no evidence beyond in vitro testing that it actually reduces viral load in the throat. 

An official statement on the Betadine website reads as follows: “Betadine® Antiseptic First Aid products have not been approved to treat coronavirus. Products should only be used to help prevent infection in minor cuts, scrapes and burns. Betadine Antiseptic products have not been demonstrated to be effective for the treatment or prevention of COVID-19 or any other viruses.”

Source: Newsweek

South African Volunteers Battle Vaccine Misinformation

Man with LED mask reading a burning newspaper. Photo by Connor Danylenko from Pexels.

As the long-delayed vaccine rollout in South Africa has begun, the government has run a public campaign to tackle prevalent health myths. But there are also volunteers who are waging an online battle against COVID and vaccine misinformation, as reported by the BBC.

Sarah Downs, who is studying molecular biology and infectious diseases, debunks false claims under the alias Mistress of Science and is fighting a surge of misinformation in South Africa. A relatively small collection of Facebook groups and users are responsible for promoting this misinformation. When she tweeted about her grandmother’s passing, a COVID denier questioned whether an autopsy had been performed. 
“We estimate that it’s about 20 000 South Africans who are actually active on anti-vax Facebook pages,” said Prof Hannelie Meyer, a pharmacist and adviser to the South African Vaccine and Immunisation Centre (Savic).

Most anti-vaccine claims in South Africa actually originate in the United States, according to a 2015 study. Anecdotal evidence, such as the spread of false claims about vaccines and DNA by an American osteopath, show this trend still holds in the pandemic.

Prof Meyer said that while data on vaccine hesitancy in SA are limited, studies indicate that more wealthy and educated groups, particularly among whites, are less willing to be vaccinated.

Leading virologist Prof Jeffrey Mphahlele has also pushed back against rumours, such as COVID and its vaccines being a Western plot to reduce Africa’s population and control its natural resources. He called the misinformation “mind boggling” – pointing out the supposed plot would require the West to create a virus that killed millions of its own people.

Even authority figures have promulgated falsehoods: South Africa’s top judge was recently criticised after a video showed him linking vaccines to a “Satanic agenda.”

One of the most prominent groups on Facebook, with some 10 000 members, seeks to spread “awareness” about vaccines but the members’ hard-line anti-vaccine attitude is very clear, ridiculing or dismissing vaccines. One video posted in the group – originally aired on an evangelical US Christian television programme – suggested getting a jab could lead to “a lifetime of illness”.

Sarah Downs stepped in to help answer questions amidst the deluge of misinformation, and one person she helped was Sheona Lottering, a swimming teacher.

“I had a friend that forwarded me a German article,” Sheona said. “She was trying to convince me that death was one of the side-effects [of a COVID vaccination].

“And I was a little bit freaked out about that.”

Sarah explained the subtleties around adverse events to her, and now Sheona keeps in contact with Sarah over difficult vaccine-related questions.

Lisa (not her real name) spends hours lurking in Facebook groups to guide people towards trusted sources of health information.

“The claims are so bizarre I could hardly believe there are people believing these things,” she said. “I don’t like misinformation, so when I see something, I just try to correct it.”

Doing this for over a decade, she’s seen communities grow and knows their tactics. She said that young mothers are a particular target in Facebook groups, where posts are coordinated to try and convince them not to vaccinate their children., which is when Lisa steps in. She keeps her inbox open and believes gentle communication works best – asking about people’s concerns rather than shouting statistics at them.

But Sarah, Lisa and other volunteers we spoke to risk exposing themselves to online abuse, and the prospects of persuasion can often seem slim. It’s difficult, pro-health work – that isn’t paid. So do they judge success?

“I think if I can just help one person be a little bit less terrified… that’s what I aim to get out of it,” Sarah says. “And if they’re willing to take the vaccine, even more so.”

Source: BBC News