Tue | Apr 13, 2021

It is critical to combat COVID-19 misinformation

Published:Monday | February 22, 2021 | 12:12 AM

THE EDITOR, Madam:

The National Bioethics Committee of Jamaica (NBCJ) would like to add its voice to the conversation about the COVID-19 vaccination concerns that exist among many Jamaicans, including healthcare professionals.

We are aware of and concerned about the levels of vaccine hesitancy among the population. Much of this concern is due to misinformation, a lot of which is circulating around the Internet. Indeed, we are currently facing twin pandemics – COVID-19 and misinformation, both of which can lead to death. We acknowledge that there is reason to mistrust so-called ‘Big Pharma’ and other such powerful actors, as history has borne out their unethical treatment of human subjects, especially vulnerable people from the global South. In addition, trust in the political directorate and other institutions have fallen significantly.

Our citizenry is doubtful of the truthfulness and commitment to their welfare of those whom they have elected to serve. Mixed into this are certain apocalyptic readings of the ‘signs of the times’, which surface time and again, when we human beings are faced with crises seemingly beyond our control. The fear that people feel is real and should be acknowledged.

It must be remembered that vaccines have been around for a long time; we no longer have to worry about dangerous diseases like polio and smallpox, and we continue to reduce incidents of measles, mumps and rubella through the MMR vaccine given to our children. Myths of mercury-associated autism and encephalopathy are just that – myths. Robust scientific research has debunked this time and again, yet the misinformation continues to be circulated.

SCIENTIFIC INNOVATION

COVID-19 is a highly infectious disease and vaccination provides a means of protecting ourselves, our families and other members of our global and regional family from infection, serious illness and even death. Continued innovations in science and technology have led to new vaccine technologies from which we are benefiting. Indeed, researchers have been working steadily over the years to create technologies to treat with viruses, including the mRNA vaccines. Those are not the only vaccine candidates, but they have been the ones to cause the most concern. Numerous studies, as well as the scientific protocols that must be followed before bringing a vaccine to market, have indicated the safety and efficacy of the approved vaccines.

An important tool in combating the fear being created through the spread of false information is to ensure the continuous spread of accurate information from trusted sources. Undoubtedly, the need to rebuild trust in our leadership and institutions must be an ongoing process. In fact, Jamaica can be justly proud of its public health system that ensures consistent inoculation of all its citizens, beginning in infancy.

The NBCJ stands ready to continue to play its part in addressing this misinformation.

ANNA KASAFI PERKINS, PhD

Member, NBCJ