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Panel of Utah experts address COVID-19 misinformation crisis

Posted at 5:23 PM, Nov 18, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-18 19:23:35-05

SALT LAKE CITY — Misinformation surrounding COVID-19 and the vaccine is not only overwhelming, for some, it can be paralyzing.

A panel at the University of Utah sought to clear some misconceptions around COVID-19. A chief medical officer, a biochemist, and a psychiatrist all agree misinformation surrounding COVID-19 is rampant and dangerous.

“I think the first step is acknowledging that there’s misinformation out there. It can be really difficult to parse out what’s true and what’s not true, and who can you trust?” said Dr. Julie Kiefer, Biochemist, Assoc. Dir. Of Science Communications for U of U.

The experts agree, social media has amplified the spread of misinformation. They urge people to use critical thinking.

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“Where are you reading this? Do you think it’s legitimate, can you check it against something that you trust?” said Dr. Kencee Graves, Associate Chief Medical Officerat the University of Utah Hospital.

“Just because someone is wearing a white coat or has a degree after their name, doesn’t necessarily mean they’re a COVID or vaccine expert,” said Dr. Kiefer.

When it comes to the amount of misinformation, Dr. Graves says she’s saddened but not surprised.

“It’s important to remember even before COVID as a society, we were stressed and isolated and polarized,” said Dr. Graves.

This has not only deepened our divide. It’s also led some to feeling on the fence about what to do for their own health.

“If you just have that little doubt, then that can be enough to stop you from taking the action to getting a vaccine for example that has real consequences,” said Dr. Kiefer.

According to a recent poll, nearly 8 in 10 adults say they’ve heard at least one of several pieces of misinformation and either believe it to be true or are not sure if it is true or false.

“There’s people that we’ve cared for and taken care of for years that trust us, and we start to talk about COVID-19 vaccines, and very quickly, they become concerned and no longer trust us as much, so I do think it’s affected the physician-patient relationship quite a bit,” said Dr. Graves.

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Dr. Kiefer says this piece of information is still missing from some communication today.

“This is our understanding right now based on the information we’ve been able to gather to date, but things may change one we learn more… part of what we need to get used to is that there is a gray area, there is nuance,” said Dr. Kiefer.

That’s why these experts hope people are asking questions and doing research before hitting share.

“I think that we as people can be very bad at weighing risks and benefits when there’s emotion involved, when you hear something scary, it’s going to stick in your mind,” said Dr. Kiefer.

“If we’re afraid of the vaccine, this is a good thing, our intuition is kicking in, when really, it’s fear. This is an uncertain time and that’s normal and ok, and really a great thing to reach out to a trusted care professional to ask,” said Kristin Francis, Psychiatrist at Huntsman Mental Health Inst.

Dr. Kiefer says the CDC website, the Mayo Clinic, or even your own physician are good sources to do your research.

The US Surgeon General also put out a community tool kit for addressing misinformation that’s easy to digest.