New PBS documentary examines the spread of COVID-19 misinformation

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Misleading and incorrect information about covid vaccines abound in a variety of places. A documentary airing tonight on Arizona PBS looks at how pervasive that mis-information is and what’s being done to set the record straight. Dr. Pamela Schweitzer is a former assistant surgeon-general and was recently on a viewing panel for the film, which is titled, “vaccination from the mis-information virus.”

Dr. Schweitzer said that with COVID-19 especially, misinformation is very prevalent.

“We’re seeing misinformation and disinformation come out primarily through social media, with people just spreading information that’s not correct,” Schweitzer said. With the right post at the right time, misleading posts can even go viral and appear on the screens of millions.

Schweitzer said that as science attempts to understand how misinformation spreads so quickly, they’re finding that much of it is due to gaps in knowledge. “If we don’t know everything, a little hole or gap gives room for a conspiracy theory to come out and just take off,” she said. When the science or reasonable understanding isn’t fully developed, these conspiracies can be difficult to combat. When the science comes around, it’s often too late for some.

Regarding the who, Schweitzer said it’s difficult to pin misinformation posts on one specific person. She did, though, attribute social media influencers to some of the spread.

“There are influencers on social media who can take it and spin the information, a certain way, or ask a question just to cause doubt.”

Schweitzer also compared the current vaccine hesitancy with that of the Spanish Flu vaccine from nearly a century ago. At that point there were hesitant people as well, though nowhere to the degree that there are today. She attributed that difference to social media in particular.

She concluded with saying that, ultimately, the documentary and its mission are about improving community health. That level of health begins at having accurate and reliable sources of information, like trustworthy media outlets.

Pamela Schweitzer, Pharm. D., Former Deputy Surgeon General

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