Spreading anti-vaccine misinformation should be made a criminal offence, according to a new UK study.
The race to develop a COVID-19 vaccine took a huge leap forward this week, when pharmaceutical giant Pfizer became the first company to announce preliminary results.
The company has yet to provide the hard scientific data; however, it claims its candidate is more than 90% effective with “no serious safety concerns.”
Meanwhile, a new report from the British Academy and Royal Society, published earlier this week, found that vaccine misinformation could undermine the entire pandemic response.
On Newstalk Breakfast this morning, Oxford Professor Melinda Mills, the author the report, said there are a number of groups actively involved in spreading vaccine misinformation.
“They offer these really straightforward explanations; they use a lot of emotion and they really are engaging for people,” she said.
“So, when you start looking at it you see that people can start inadvertently sharing that information or misinterpreting that information.”
She said the report examines three potentially response to vaccine misinformation.
- Empowering the general public to spot and report misinformation.
- Increased accountability for media companies.
- Legislation making it illegal to spread vaccine misinformation.
Professor Mills said one of the more effective solutions is to “not to give these groups any oxygen at all” and simply “smother out” the misinformation.
She said it will be essential to fill that void with accurate information and to ensure that people’s concerns are taken seriously.
“Take the vaccines for COVID,” she said. “There are going to multiple vaccines and it is unprecedented uncertainty and complexity to try and describe and communicate all of this.
“Something that usually takes a decade has been developed in about a year so people will have legitimate concerns.
“Is this Safe? Is it effective? It has been tested on mid-range groups and it is going to rolled out on older age groups so people will want to know, what are the side-effects?
“There are side-effects with every vaccine and every drug and these things will always come.
“We have to engage in a dialogue so it would actually be even more effective to forget the criminal prosecution and go right to filling the information void, engaging in similar tactics to talking to people about their legitimate fears.”
She said the only way to build trust is to be completely transparent with people.
“We can always expect some side-effects,” she said. “You might get a fever or a sore arm and there will be some groups that will be more affected.
“So just start that debate already and prepare the public.”
She said people also need to be aware that it may take some time to rollout the vaccine to the wider public.
“There will be certain priority groups such as older people in care homes that will get it first and some of you won’t be first in line so it is not going to be magically this silver bullet where it is all over on the first day of rollout,” she said.
“We are going to be here for a while, social distancing in our bubbles so it is going to take some time before this all rolls out.”
The European Commission will today finalise a deal for 300 million doses of the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine.
Yesterday, Trinity Professor Luke O’Neill told The Pat Kenny Show that every nursing home in Ireland could have access to a coronavirus vaccine as early as Christmas.
You can listen back to Professor Mills here: