Monday, November 8, 2021

'Unplug' from sources of misinformation, and treat unvaccinated with dignity and respect, Ky. health chief tells rural health leaders

By Melissa Patrick
Kentucky Health News

If you're trying to persuade someone to get a Covid-19 vaccine, it's important to come from a place of "mutual regard and respect," state Health Commissioner Steven Stack told members of the Kentucky Rural Health Association at its annual conference Monday.

Misinformation is a big obstacle to vaccination, and Stack told the online meeting that the most important thing we can do to stop the spread of misinformation is to "unplug" from social media and make sure you are getting your information from a credible news source, and not an entertainer. 

Commissioner Steven Stack, M.D.

Stack, a physician, stressed that it doesn't matter whether a person lives in rural Appalachia or in urban Jefferson County, people don't like to have their community values and believes treated with disregard. An added challenge, he said, is that getting more Kentuckians vaccinated requires more than  presenting "just the science."

"If we don't find a way to meet folks in a place where they feel respected and treated with dignity and regard, it just feels like someone from a distance is lecturing to them and telling them what they must do -- and that doesn't work," he said. 

Further, he said the messenger needs to come from a trusted source in the community, and delivering the message may involve a two-step process: first, a safe space to normalize the vaccine and answer questions about it, followed by opportunities to get it.

Stack also said it's important to remember that people have many reasons for not getting vaccinated that go beyond their personal beliefs and ideology, including a lack of transportation, poor health literacy, or misinformation. 

"Misinformation literally is a killer," he said. "What people see on Facebook and TikTok and Instagram and Twitter, that stuff literally has killed people, because there's all these falsehoods that have been spread."

He said we must all have empathy for any young woman of childbearing years who chooses not to get a vaccine because of the misinformation she's being fed that it could cause infertility, "when there is no evidence that that's the case whatsoever." 

"We've got to find a way to overcome that," he said. 

It's easy to get locked into an echo chamber and to hear only what a person likes to hear, Stack said, recommending that everyone needs to "unplug" from social media more often and to treat all of it as "a treat" instead of a staple. He also encouraged people to be more selective about where they get their news. 

"And by the grace of God, none of us should be watching anything on cable television that purports to be news that is really entertainment," he said. 

The latest Kaiser Family Foundation Covid-19 Vaccine Monitor poll that looked at media and misinformation found that belief in pandemic-related misinformation is widespread, with 78% of adults saying they have heard at least one of eight different false statements about Covid-19 and that they believe it to be true or are unsure if it is true or false. One-third (32%) of all adults believe or are uncertain about at least four false statements. 

The eight common falsehoods asked about in the poll included: the government is exaggerating the number of Covid-19 deaths; pregnant women should not get a vaccine; deaths due to vaccines are being intentionally hidden by the government; the vaccines have been shown to cause infertility; Ivermectin is a safe and effective treatment for Covid-19; you can get Covid-19 from a vaccine; the vaccines contain a microchip; and they can change your DNA. All those statements are false.

A Kaiser news release said, "Belief in Covid-19 misinformation is correlated with both vaccination status and partisanship, with unvaccinated adults and Republicans much more likely to believe or be unsure about false statements compared to vaccinated adults and Democrats."

Kaiser Family Foundation graph; click on it to enlarge.
The poll, taken Oct. 14-24, also found that a person's trusted news source correlated with their belief in Covid-19 misinformation.

The survey found that respondents were less likely to believe any of the eight pieces of misinformation if they said their trusted news source for Covid-19 information was CNN, MSNBC, network news, NPR or local TV news.

The poll found that misinformation was more likely to be believed by those who said their trusted Covid-19 information came from conservative news sources, "with nearly four in 10 of those who trust Fox News (36%) and One America News (37%) and nearly half (46%) of those who trust Newsmax for such information saying they have heard at least four of the falsehoods tested in the survey and either believe them to be true or are unsure if they’re true or false."

That finding doesn't prove that those sources convey misinformation, because it could also be that the types of people who choose those sources are likely to believe certain types of misinformation, the release said. 

Stack told the rural health conferees that overall pandemic trends in Kentucky are heading "in the right direction," but expressed concern that cold weather and an increase in indoor social events during the holiday season could lead to another rise in cases, especially in rural areas with low vaccination rates.

"It raises the real concern that we could have yet another escalation. . . . Folks clearly are not in the same level of compliance with mask use and physical distancing that we were last year, and that will all be a recipe for an increase," he said.

Most of Kentucky's 120 counties have less than one-half of their populations vaccinated with at least one dose of a vaccine, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

State Dept. for Public Health map, adapted by Ky. Health News; click on it to enlarge. Interactive at

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