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Surgeon general urges U.S. fight against COVID misinformation

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U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy on Thursday called for a national effort to fight misinformation about COVID-19 and vaccines, urging tech companies, health care workers, journalists and everyday Americans to do more to address a “serious public threat.”

In a 22-page advisory, his first as President Joe Biden’s surgeon general, Murthy wrote that bogus claims have led people to reject vaccines and public health advice on masks and social distancing, undermining efforts to end the coronavirus pandemic and putting lives at risk.

The warning comes as the pace of COVID-19 vaccinations has slowed throughout the U.S., in part because of vaccine opposition fueled by unsubstantiated claims about the safety of immunizations and despite the U.S. death toll recently passing 600,000.

“Limiting the spread of health misinformation is a moral and civic imperative that will require a whole-of-society effort,” wrote Murthy, who also served as surgeon general under former President Barack Obama.

Health misinformation was a global problem even before the internet and social media allowed dangerous claims to spread faster and easier than ever before. The problem of COVID-19 misinformation is so great that the World Health Organization has deemed it an “infodemic.”

Given the role the internet plays in spreading health misinformation, Murthy said technology companies and social media platforms should make meaningful changes to their products and software to reduce the spread of misinformation while increasing access to authoritative, fact-based sources.

Teachers, he said, should expand education on media literacy and critical thinking. Journalists, he suggested, should work to responsibly debunk health misinformation without inadvertently spreading it further. And public health officials and doctors, he suggested, should do a better job answering questions and explaining why public health guidelines sometimes change based on new information.

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COVID-19 Booster Shots Can Wait

Vaccines against SARS-CoV-2 are proving quite safe and highly effective in the prevention of COVID-19, especially severe and/or fatal disease.

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