Misinformation could have a dangerous impact on public health as the Government prepares a Covid-19 vaccine rollout.
By Larissa Howie
PM Jacinda Ardern announced today that the Pfizer vaccine has now been approved for use in New Zealand, the first of several vaccines set to eventually be distributed. She said vaccinations should start by next month.
But there are indications around the world that plenty of people are not interested in taking it.
Media literacy expert Damaso Reyes said not being able to tell the difference between false information and accurate information can lead to poor decision making.
“We see it in more insidious ways in terms of Covid and vaccinations — people hesitant about taking a Covid vaccine or taking unproven or dangerous so-called cures to prevent Covid,” he said.
The US-based expert said it was important to not be passive with information to navigate "the swamp of information on social media".
“We need to engage with information critically, not simply accept it because it happens to confirm what we already believe, or reject it because it challenges what we believe,” he said
Vacinologist Helen Petousis-Harris told 1 NEWS misinformation is one of the top challenges for public health.
“It's a threat.”
Her advice is to look at where the scientific consensus lies.
“If what you're looking at is actually at odds with that, you might have to reflect a bit on accuracy of that and also think about where you're getting the information from.”
She said it was fine to be wary or have questions around vaccines, and there needs to be a better way to get information out to communities.
“People are different about what they want to know and how they like to receive it, and we need to be better at delivering on that,” she said.
A public information campaign costing $3 million begins later this month, with another round later in April.
Psychologist Nigel Latta believes it is normal for people to be cautious when it comes to vaccinations.
“It's a natural human thing to be afraid of stuff that's new.”
However, he said we should not be taking health advice from those unqualified to give it.
“It’s really important to make sure the information you're basing your decision on comes from public health professionals and not from just random people on the internet, or your next-door neighbour.”
According to Latta, the human brain latches onto threats, but in New Zealand people may feel removed from the public health threats Covid-19 poses.
“People are struggling to see that bigger fear so they're reacting to the immediate fear, which is the concerns about the vaccine.”
He said uptake rates in the United Kingdom were good because people can see the immediate impact of the virus.
“For us, that seems like a long way away.”
He said the focus should be on the consequences on public health if people choose not to vaccinate.