WASHINGTON - President Joe Biden’s surgeon general issued his first formal advisory to the public Thursday, warning Americans of the urgent threat of health misinformation during the ongoing pandemic, calling for a new approach to addressing the falsehoods swirling around the coronavirus and COVID-19 vaccines.
"Amid all this information, many people have also been exposed to health misinformation: information that is false, inaccurate, or misleading according to the best available evidence at the time," U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy wrote in the 22-page report.
"Misinformation has caused confusion and led people to decline COVID-19 vaccines, reject public health measures such as masking and physical distancing, and use unproven treatments," Murthy, who also served as the surgeon general under President Barack Obama, said.
The surgeon general cited the unprecedented speed and scale of health misinformation in recent years, especially online.
"Health misinformation is a serious threat to public health. It can cause confusion, sow mistrust, harm people’s health, and undermine public health efforts. Limiting the spread of health misinformation is a moral and civic imperative that will require a whole-of-society effort," Murthy wrote.
During Thursday’s White House press briefing, Murthy addressed reporters citing "multiple sources" as one source of disinformation, including individuals who don’t necessarily have bad intentions.
He called COVID-19 falsehoods "one of the biggest obstacles that’s preventing us from ending this pandemic."
"I hope that you will see it as I do, as a starting point from which we can build a healthier information environment, safeguard our nation from further threats and ultimately empower people to lead healthier lives," Murthy told reporters.
The advisory includes recommendations and suggestions for individuals and families to help curb the increase in disinformation, including checking sources before sharing and making sure the information is backed by credible, scientific sources.
Murthy also asked technology companies to monitor misinformation more closely.
"I think in a moment like this when we see misinformation literally costing us our loved ones, costing us lives, we can be more accountable and responsible for the information that we share," Murthy continued.
This new advisory comes after numerous studies continue to show that COVID-19 vaccinations are highly effective at preventing death and hospitalization from COVID-19 infection. Recent studies have also shown evidence pertaining to the vaccine’s effectiveness against variants, including the highly infectious delta variant.
According to data by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 59.2% of U.S. adults are fully vaccinated, and 67.9% have received at least one dose.