Monday, 29 Nov 2021

The U.S. surgeon general calls Covid misinformation an ‘urgent threat to public health.’


By Sheryl Gay Stolberg

President Biden’s surgeon general on Thursday used his first formal advisory to the United States to warn against the dangers of health misinformation, calling it an “urgent threat to public health” and urging all Americans — and specifically tech and social media companies — to do more to curb the spread of falsehoods about Covid-19.

The official warning by Dr. Vivek Murthy is unusual; surgeons general have traditionally used their official “advisories” — short statements that call the American people’s attention to a public health issue and provide recommendations for how it can be addressed — to talk about health matters ranging from tobacco use to opioid addiction, suicide prevention and breastfeeding.

But this new advisory, contained in a 22-page report with footnotes, occurs in a more political context. Fox News hosts like Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingraham, along with their guests, are among those who have been casting doubt on Covid-19 vaccines, which studies show are highly effective at preventing death and hospitalization from the disease.

Health misinformation about social distancing, mask use, treatments and vaccines has been rampant during the coronavirus pandemic. The report is a sign that the Biden administration, faced with a steep decline in vaccination rates, is moving more forcefully to confront it. Fewer than 50 percent of Americans are fully vaccinated, and many top health experts have called for the president to do more to reach people who have yet to be get shots.

While virus numbers remain at some of the lowest levels since the beginning of the pandemic, they are once again slowly rising, fueled by the spread of the more contagious Delta variant; vaccines are effective against the variant. Counties that voted for Mr. Biden average higher vaccination levels than those that voted for Donald Trump. Conservatives tend to decline vaccination far more often than Democrats.

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