Pharmaceutical companies hope to introduce Covid-19 vaccines to the public by year end and then rapidly ramp up production. If most people receive vaccinations by next fall, life may regain a large degree of normalcy. That may be more difficult than thought.

Misinformation and outright lies has proliferated online: The vaccine alters your DNA. It will transform you into a monkey. Vaccinations involve a plot to plant microchips in brains.

Social media networks like Facebook and YouTube have been slow to block such outlandish assertions and stop misinformation from spreading online. The Centre for Countering Digital Hate says 95% of such material on social media is not removed and reaches a vast audience, the BBC reports.

Susceptibility to misinformation is much larger than thought, suggests a survey of people in several countries, including the US and UK. For instance, 22% of survey respondents in the UK consider the claim that Covid-19 was manufactured in a lab in Wuhan, China, as credible.

As misinformation spreads, the number of people unwilling to accept vaccines, and follow other public health recommendations, increases. In addition, trust in leading health organizations decreases.

Calls for Biden Administration Funding

Communications professionals will play an essential role in publicizing accurate information that promotes acceptance of Covid-19 vaccines.

“PR can be the difference-maker and the second most effective weapon against the virus,” writes Kevin McCauley at O’Dwyer’s. The Biden Administration should fund a communications push to persuade Americans to accept the vaccines, McCauley recommends, noting that the public trusts Biden more than outgoing President Trump when it comes to handling the epidemic.

The government plans to increase vaccine distribution next year as manufacturing capacity for the vaccine scales up. “It will be up to PR to persuade American to take their COVID-19 shots,” McCauley says.

PR Partners with Scientists

PR pros can work with scientists to develop awareness campaigns that build confidence in the vaccines, Shalon Roth, founder of healthcare communications agency PR-it, told PR Week. The paradox is that most organizations that would fund an initiative also suffer from low public trust levels. The solution is to work with academic institutions that don’t have a financial interest in the vaccines.

“Just as Johns Hopkins’ interactive map became a go-to source for COVID-related case data, academia could potentially offer a digestible, interactive repository for COVID-19 information and vaccine development,” Roth says.

Social Media Giants Agree to Fact-Checking Plan

Facebook, Google and Twitter will work with Canadian and UK government agencies to stop misinformation about Covid-19 vaccines, media outlets report. British fact checking charity Full Fact will coordinate the effort, and Facebook will provide initial funding.

The US government is not participating in the endeavor.

It’s not clear if or how much the initiative will slow the gusher of misinformation or if it will diminish criticism of the tech giants. Fact-checking alone may not be enough. Misinformation about vaccines has been rampant on social media for years despite previous efforts to discourage it.

Previously, Facebook said it would ban ads that discourage vaccines. That’s not enough by a long shot.

Facebook has allowed vaccine conspiracy theories to spread on Instagram and in groups on Facebook. And, as recently as September, Mark Zuckerberg defended his decision not to crack down on the platform’s anti-vaxxers.

Business Initiatives to Counter Vaccine Misinformation

Corporate communicators can counter misinformation with solid, science-supported information through internal communications to employees and to the organization’s other communities. Like effective advertising campaigns, the pro-vaccine information campaigns need to register multiple impressions on each individual over an extended period of time.

Businesses can consider funding public service advertising campaigns on Covid-19 vaccination or trusted organizations that promote vaccination. Such campaigns would earn enormous good will. Business might also consider providing incentives such as time off or bonuses to employees who get vaccinated.

Anti-vaxxers and those on the fence about vaccination trust business more than government. Now is the time for all businesses to plan and implement a Covid-19 vaccination communications campaign.

Bottom Line: Abundant misinformation about Covid-19 vaccines may stymie widespread vaccination efforts, a crucial component in limiting infections. Convincing the public that Covid-19 vaccines are safe may be the next battle in the war against the pandemic. Many communications experts and business leaders say it’s essential for the business community to lead the charge against vaccine misinformation.

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