Vaccine Approval Looks Imminent, But Distrust, Misinformation Have Experts Worried

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It could finally happen on thursday. That's when an fda advisory committee will meet and vote on whether to grant emergency use authorization and eu a for distribution of corona virus vaccine developed by pfizer. We're expecting a good discussion there of the data and then we believe shortly after that meeting will be able to make a decision. Dr steven on is head of the fda. He spoke to npr earlier this week after his agency put out a statement about the pfizer vaccine which was recently approved and began distribution in the uk. Ain't when it comes to that vaccine. The fda said that there are quote no specific safety concerns identified that would preclude issuance of an e ua and the conclusions that you just read. are are formed by a career scientists who look very detailed in a detailed way at the safety but also the efficacy of the vaccine And so that Is very very important. Part of our promise. The american that we won't cut corners in how we assess safety and effectiveness of a vaccine whether enough americans are hearing. That promise is another question. Public polling is revealed as many as forty percent of americans are expressing reluctance to get a coronavirus vaccine and misinformation on the topic is rampant online is a rating grady ready powerful parallel pandemic to the real imran. Ahmed studies misinformation on the internet he. Ceo the non-profit center for countering digital hate neck rebound who rely on social media for information about the pandemic are less likely to say they would get a coronavirus vaccine. The one hundred and fifty largest anti vaccination accounts on social media have gained eight million followers since january in essence. Ahmed says the krona virus and misinformation are twin pandemics. Amplifying each other won't be biological one being social what can in concert really undermine octopussy to contain consider this experts say at least seventy five percent of people need to be vaccinated in order to get the virus under control but there is a growing amount of misinformation and distrust in the way of that goal from npr. I'm audie cornish. It's wednesday december ninth. Let's be honest. this year has been hard from covid. Nineteen the presidential election. So much of our energy is spent just getting through the day. Join us for a new season of the story. Core podcast from npr to hear conversations from people who have faced challenges. Come out on the other side learn some meaningful lessons along the way it's consider this from. Npr back in january. The world was barely talking about a mysterious virus that had recently emerged in central china but at the university of washington researcher kalina coal tie already heard about it in the anti vaccination groups on facebook. The conversation about it was like. Hey here's this mysterious illness. Or here's a summit. Does seems to be spreading in china. You some of the people in these communities are actually well aware what's happening in other countries relationship to vaccines coal tie. Who spoke to. Npr's ted correspondent shannon bond as studied the growing anti vaccination movement on facebook for years. There's been a long outstanding concern. That took an epidemic or in this case pandemic is going to potentially cause of another vaccine to be created to potentially be like forced onto everyone and ideas like that used to be confined to specific groups groups dedicated to vaccines alternative health and parenting. The this year coltan says the pandemic has created opportunities for misinformation to become mainstream. There's so much we don't know so much. Uncertainty at uncertainty makes us also proud to misinformation to try to like that feeling in response to the growing appetite for misinformation on its platform. Last week facebook announced it would remove debunked information about the coronavirus vaccine that would quote lead to imminent visible harm. Yes there are false claims that they're taking down but there's a lot of people who were just asking questions so many ways you'd be very hard pressed to say that folks room is going to lead to imminent harm claire. Wardell is the co founder and director for straffed a nonprofit focused on research to address misinformation. She told npr. There's been a noticeable uptick just in the last few months of misinformation about a coronavirus vaccine. Some of it is to make money people trying to drive clicks to their websites where they're selling health supplements so there's those kind of people there are people who are just trying to crave connections with the community. People's lives have been turned upside down this year. They're looking for explanations and then some people are just doing this to cause trouble to see what they can get away with but no matter. The motivation wardell says a lot of vaccine misinformation that winds up on facebook doesn't meet the platforms imminent physical harm standard. And what we're missing is the daily drip drip drip drip drip of low level Vaccine misinformation none of which would break facebook's barrier but we don't know what this looks like. If over a couple of years you see this kind of content that's questioning. The government is questioning the cdc's questioning dr fauci and we have almost no research that allows us to understand that long shooting impacts of misinformation one thing experts study vaccine misinformation. Do understand is that it often takes hold where people may not be looking for it. Rene directa is one of those experts. She directs the stanford internet observatory. She spoke to. Npr's robin young about where vaccine misinformation often appears on social media. And why it's so hard to control. A page may not have a primary focus on what some would consider to be a core anti vaccine beliefs. But they're concerned about another issue that's adjacent or related so you come for the organic food the baby wearing and then in the course of that you're are also becoming their be of constant pushes of messages related to this other thing that you may not necessarily have joined four well and this is a good place to mention. We're talking about people from all across the political spectrum. A lot of people who are on the left looking for an organic lifestyle a healthy lifestyle. So this is both sides yes so there are seven or eight distinct threads of anti vaccine messaging. So there's the health component the idea that there are toxins in vaccines. There is the old conspiracy it's been debunked over and over and over again but it persists that vaccines cause autism. There are narratives related to religion. The idea that if god made you perfect why would you need a vaccine more narratives that appeal to the right ten towards the application of a vaccine. The idea that the government telling you to do something is tyranny and also knowing what you're looking at There are also very official looking websites by groups with names like the children's ethical safety research institute pushing false vaccine information. This reminds me a little bit of what we've heard that cunanan does pull people in by pushing this completely false theory that democrats in particular are running child sex trafficking organizations completely completely not true but there are people who concerned about child sex trafficking. Get pulled into that. Is it a little bit like that. There's a lot right now. you know. There's a conspiracy that financial motivation is what's driving the vaccine process that this is going to turn people into antennas for five g. There's no mechanism by which that could happen. But at the same time this is still a narrative that begins to gain traction among the conspiratorial anti five g community. And so you see a lot of these cross pollination narratives shape so meantime people are being targeted with misinformation on facebook and twitter but studies show that it would take seventy five percent of the population getting vaccinated to control the outbreak. Do you worry that we might not get there. I think the challenge has been that it's growing. It's difficult to get an accurate sense of how many people fully believe all of the things that are said in these groups and on these pages. Unfortunately a lot of the rhetoric is trending towards this. Why should i have to narrative. And i think that we need to make sure that anybody who's communicating about why these vaccines matter is is explaining the value to all of society. Not just the individual and how any restoration of our. Our old way of living is something that we bear. Collective responsibility for rene duress is the technical research manager at the stanford internet observatory. She spoke to robin young. And now that shows a co production of npr and member station w. b. u. r. In boston public health. Experts are worried that some people who are skeptical of coronavirus vaccine or the people who need it the most including latinos and african americans who make up a disproportionate number of people hospitalized or killed by covid nineteen but there are efforts to fight vaccine skepticism within those communities. Here's correspondent adrian for ito who reports on race and identity for npr. Maria does not intend to get vaccinated. At least not right away. I definitely will be one of the people that won't take it. You know in the beginning players. She is not generally a vaccine skeptic. A discipline since this new i am not comfortable of getting it surveys. Show that kind of skepticism about the covid vaccine is widespread. Nearly forty percent of latinos told pew researchers. They would probably or definitely not get the vaccine more than half of black respondents said the same white people have also expressed hesitancy but the reluctance among african americans and latinos is especially worrying because their rates of infection are so much higher. It's it's a major concern dr keith. Norris's among an army of people ramping up efforts to ensure latinos african americans and other people colored. Trust the vaccine. He's hearing a wide range of concerns. Many stemming from a long history of racism in medical research concerned about being a guinea pig concerns about pharma and federal government. And then there's lots of social media messaging downplaying the importance of coronavirus. Norris works for ucla and is leading california effort funded by the national institutes of health to build vaccine trust. The strategy is to get clear. Concise information to black and brown communities with help from so-called trusted gers people with existing relationships in communities with high covid risk. People like tony. Wafer a longtime los angeles-based hiv educator in may he lost five close family members to covid. He's talked about that a lot as he's encouraged black friends and neighbors to volunteer for vaccine trials and now to take the vaccine is hard to say. Get getting this trial and these were people gonna help you win. These are the same white. Have been kicking your ass alway. You know what i mean. He says he acknowledges people's skepticism and meets them where they are. I tell people what are you. Won't they say well. I'm all blood pressure medicine. I'm taking central cholesterol. So you know before you've taken that pill clunk child out of thin air then they go really yeah. It was the clinical shelters. Ucla's keith. norris says this outreach. We'll take many forms in person on the airwaves and in virtual town halls. He says researchers will track. What messages about the vaccine. People respond to to see if there are certain areas that tend to have a greater impact moving people from being reticent to being willing. I'm not gonna go. Set is with sonny seattle health san diego clinic that serves a large mexican and mexican. American population fears about vaccine. Safety are compounded by language issues and concerns about immigration status. The clinic trained community outreach workers to answer questions about the vaccine the reason why this is working is because people are not relying on a government entity posed information especially due to the last four years. People rather i hear from someone that they already have a relationship with. She expects the vaccine to gain acceptance over time but she also says many of the clinics patients are already eager for the vaccine because they've spent months risking themselves in essential. Jobs have lost friends and family. Don't wanna see anyone else. Any other loved one. Have to go through that for these people. The vaccine means being able to continue to provide allies for their loved ones and to be there for them in the long run. She says that's the message. She intends to keep driving home. That's npr national correspondent. adrian florida. it's consider this from npr. I'm audie cornish. And i'm actually listen to be from. Wmu amu in for jonathan wilson around fifty thousand doses of the pfizer corona virus vaccine could arrive in maryland as early as next week. According to state officials people who work in hospitals and long term care facilities would be among the first to get the vaccine if approved by the fda maryland could also receive more than one hundred thousand doses of the modern vaccine later this month. Both vaccines required to doses. Here's maryland governor. Larry hogan at a press conference on tuesday to be effective. These vaccines need reach a vast majority of our population and to do so in a relatively short period of time this is by far the most massive undertaking of this pandemic. This is consider this from npr and wmu number of recorded covid cases in the washington region has surpassed five hundred thousand since the pandemic began and as government and health leaders in our region continued to enforce restrictions. Hope has been placed in the possibility of vaccines arriving this month and early next year. Leaders in maryland. Virginia and dc have discussed the vaccine distribution plants saying they will prioritize workers and first responders here to discuss this plans and continued efforts to stop the spread of the virus in our region. His wmu's margaret barthel. Hi margaret hi ashley. So we know that. The number of reported cases in the region since the beginning of the pandemic is more than five hundred thousand. But can you give us a sense of what that case load. Looks like in each jurisdiction sherpa. I think it's fair to say that the caseload is is the worst. It's been across the region for the whole pandemic virginia average more than three and a half thousand new cases per day. Over the past week triple springs peak. Maryland is also close to tripling its peak and the district is close to doubling its spring numbers of new cases and we heard a little bit earlier about hogan's plan for distributing the vaccine in maryland. What does that look like. In virginia and dc. Sure i think we can generally expect things in virginia to look pretty similar of frontline healthcare workers and people who work or live in long term care settings will be the first to get the vaccine in the district. Things are a little bit more complicated. The federal government appears to be getting ready to allocate vaccine doses according to state population but dc officials say that that will only be enough to cover about ten percent of the healthcare workers in the city and its extra complicated of course because c. health workers may live in neighboring jurisdictions. So there's a real question about how that's all going to work out. Who's going to get a who's going to vaccinate whom and so forth and in the meantime each leader has put limits on gatherings and enforced wearing masks but no one is saying their jurisdiction is going to shut down completely right. This came up at a press conference with dc mayor. Muriel bowser district officials have been reluctant to reimpose. Stay at home orders. Here's what health director. Dr la- quander net had to say about. That would be much easier for us as the health department to advise the mirror to move us to stay at home posture. But that would not necessarily be widely acceptable by the five residents of our community and the degree to which we adherents to. That immediately may also be debatable. Now nine months into the response and so we have to think about how we can make these incremental changes that will give us some benefit and impact based on the populations that are driving our increasing cases. So nesbitt didn't provide any particular evidence that people wouldn't comply with stricter rules but think this kind of hesitancy from local officials Certainly underscores the degree of pandemic fatigue. That we're all feeling as well as a real concern about the survival of local businesses even while we are seeing the number of cases go so dramatically up and you mentioned this concerned about local businesses. It seems that. Dc is working to help out people who are struggling financially as well. Yes bowser also announced a new plan to distribute more cares act money. It's a one time. A twelve hundred dollar stimulus check to people who applied for eligible for the federal pandemic unemployment assistance program before november thirty s. That program covers gig workers and contractors and it will expire this month if congress doesn't extend it so. Dc's taking matters into its own hands on this one. That's wmu's margaret barth fell. Thank you so much. Thanks so much for having me ashleigh and thanks for joining us for. Consider this from npr. Listen again next time. And we'll make sense of the major stories happening in the washington region and elsewhere in your world. 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