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Doctors, health officials battle misinformation they fear could derail vaccination efforts

Posted at 10:49 AM, Jan 08, 2021

Inside Dr. Luke McWhorter’s office, there are cartoons that adorn a tack board as soon as you enter.

One depicts a clown sitting on an exam room table as it looks at a doctor with a speech bubble that says, “Doctors scare me.” Another shows a man walking his dog with a cone around his head. He’s saying, “If you have a better way to help me keep my hands off my face until this pandemic ends… I’m all ears.”

The caricatures are meant to get a laugh, but they speak to something deeper that has been bothering physicians since a vaccine came out: misinformation and conspiracies meant to combat vaccination efforts.

“It gets frustrating sometimes,” said Dr. McWhorter.

Ever since a vaccine was announced, Dr. McWhorter says questions from the 60 to 80 patients he sees each week have been increasing. Many are legitimate inquiries into when the vaccine will become available to more of the public and how to go about getting one. But some lean on baseless claims and myths created by anti-science groups earlier in the pandemic.

“My job is to educate people with the knowledge that I have and try to reassure people that what they’re doing is safe for them and their loved ones,” said Dr. McWhorter. “[Some people say] mRNA vaccines will change your DNA. That is not possible for it to do that.”

In Nevada, Heidi Parker gets similar questions. As the director of the nonprofit Immunize Nevada, she focuses on combatting misinformation in her state, which ranks among the lowest when it comes to immunization rates among adults in the country.

“You know, [we get] some of the 5G and microchip misinformation,” she said.

Parker says pushing out accurate information through credible sources like doctors and physicians is the best way forward. Immunize Nevada posts videos on its YouTube channel that tackle different issues about the vaccine, using state health officials and known doctors as the narrators.

She acknowledges the small sector of our country that simply will not vaccinate themselves or their children but says that cohort of people is small enough that it should not impact the fact-driven base looking for accurate information to guide their decision.

“We know this vaccine is the tool we need to restore our communities and get past this pandemic,” said Parker. “[When people] see their peers get vaccinated and hearing from their peers why they made the decision to get vaccinated, it is really key.”

Dr. WcWhorter is a testament to that. Most of his staff has been vaccinated and they can use their experiences to reassure those who come into his office with questions that what they are doing is safe, helpful, and even altruistic.

“For the greater good of the population, we need to get the vast majority of people vaccinated so this pandemic will eventually end,” he said.