Over 800 vaccine misinformation posts reported by HSE to social media networks

Dr Ronan Glynn warns against false information as 1,386 new cases confirmed in State

Ireland has one of the highest take-up rates for the Covid-19 vaccine, according to new data. File photograph: Adam Glanzman/Bloomberg

Ireland has one of the highest take-up rates for the Covid-19 vaccine, according to new data. File photograph: Adam Glanzman/Bloomberg

 

More than 800 posts containing misinformation, or which were potentially harmful to people’s health, have been reported by the HSE to social media networks since February.

The deputy chief medical officer has called on people not to rely on “unsubstantiated information” about the Covid-19 vaccine and warned that “inaccurate or misleading” information about the pandemic was still spreading online.

A further 1,386 people have been diagnosed with Covid-19, according to the Department of Health.

There are 106 people in hospital with the disease, of whom, 22 are in intensive care.

In a statement on Friday, Dr Ronan Glynn warned that false information about coronavirus vaccines, which started spreading even before vaccines had been developed, was undermining vaccination efforts in many countries, “prolonging the pandemic and putting lives at risk”.

“All of us together can help to stop the spread of misinformation,” said Dr Glynn. “Remember not every post on social media is reliable or accurate – if you are not sure, then don’t share.”

Vaccine acceptance in Ireland is generally very high – an Amárach public opinion survey carried out last week showed 81 per cent of participants under 35, who were not yet vaccinated, said they would get the jab next week if offered it.

More than 66 per cent of the Irish population are now fully vaccinated, while over 80 per cent are partially vaccinated, according to the Health Service Executive.

However, there are still worries that some younger people, who are now able to register for the vaccine, are sceptical about the safety of the Covid-19 vaccination because of material they have read online.

More than 800 social media posts that were “potentially harmful to people’s health or contain deliberate misinformation in relation to a range of health topics including vaccines”, have been reported by the HSE to social networks since February, said a HSE spokeswoman.

Multilingual campaign

Measures were also being rolled out to ensure these high rates continue among communities found to be more reluctant to get the jab based on international data, she said.

These include a multilingual ad campaign the HSE is running on digital audio platforms such as TuneIn and Spotify to ensure Ireland’s immigrant community, who may be more susceptible to misinformation because of linguistic barriers, receive reliable health advice, she said.

“Dynamic audio allows us to pick up the language setting on a person’s phone to deliver a suitable ad,” she said. “Polish ads are the most frequently heard of these so far. We will continue to monitor performance of available languages. Radio ads are also on community radio in Italian, Spanish, French, Polish, Punjabi, Urdu and Russian.”

The #ForUsAll campaign, which launched in May to provide information on the vaccine rollout through social media, is targeted at young people and encouraging them to “be part of the biggest social movement of our time”, said the HSE spokeswoman. The Covid-19 Vaccine Community Network, which includes the GAA, faith groups and healthcare staff, also helps build confidence in the vaccine, she said.

A spokesman for the Department of Health warned of the “infodemic” happening in tandem with the pandemic and said the Government was working with public health doctors to address misinformation through “various channels” including the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) press briefings, media interviews and content on its own social media channels.

The Sci Comm Collective, a network of young scientists and doctors, has also been established to “inspire and empower” young people on how to live safely during the pandemic via posts on Instagram and TikTok, he said. The collective website features videos from a number of university students and recent graduates offering advice and guidance on the Covid-19 virus, the vaccine and how to socialise safely during the pandemic.

Professor Philip Nolan, chair of the NPHET’s epidemiological modelling advisory group. File Photograph: Colin Keegan, Collins Dublin
Professor Philip Nolan, chair of the NPHET’s epidemiological modelling advisory group. File Photograph: Colin Keegan, Collins Dublin

Herd immunity

Earlier on Friday, Nphet official Prof Philip Nolan warned that “herd immunity” was an abstract concept, and there wasn’t a “magic” figure to be reached at which stage “everything goes back to normal.”

Speaking on RTÉ radio’s Morning Ireland, Prof Nolan said that herd immunity was a useful concept, but that reaching a figure of 85 per cent would not mean life could go back to normal.

High levels of vaccination needed to be reached before any “non-pharmaceutical” restrictions could be relaxed, he said.

In the meantime, everyone, as a society, needed to continue to play their part. A gradual reduction of other restrictions could be looked at as vaccination levels were increased, he said.

Prof Nolan cautioned against looking at what had happened in Scotland recently, where case numbers rose and then dropped. There were always reasons to be optimistic and not to be focussed on the “grim possibilities”, but it was not inevitable that a specific trajectory would occur, he added.

What happened next depended on “what we do for the next few weeks.”

“Where the numbers go next depends on us. The good news is that the vaccine gives us great protection,” he said.

Prof Nolan called on the public to “get your vaccine when it is offered”, as the Delta variant would remain a significant threat for the coming weeks.

Some who were vaccinated were “inappropriately feeling bullet proof,” he said, adding that while the vaccine offered protection, the virus could still be transmitted. “We can’t let the disease run riot.”