Legislative hearing in 2019 on the same topic. (CTNewsjunkie file photo)
BARTH KECK

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Misinformation poses an existential threat to our way of life.

It sounds incredibly alarmist, but the evidence continues to mount. Over the past year, for example, the coronavirus pandemic has been an absolute windfall for peddlers of misinformation. The man formerly known as president has led the way, comprising “37.9% of the overall misinformation conversation” on social media, according to a recent Cornell University study.

Among the most prevalent forms of COVID misinformation are conspiracy theories. Currently, it’s COVID vaccines driving the drivel.

When the federal government suspended the Johnson & Johnson vaccine last week to study how blood clots had formed in six women out of the nearly 7 million Americans who had taken the shot, it was not a news story from the mainstream media topping all Facebook clicks. Rather, it was a conspiracy theory tied to the event.

“The most popular link on Facebook about the Johnson & Johnson news was shared by a conspiracy theorist and self-described ‘news analyst & hip-hop artist’ named An0maly who thinks the pandemic is a cover for government control.”

Ironically, the J&J story, which provided the latest fodder for COVID vaccine deniers, broke just as the state reported more than 1 million residents have been fully vaccinated, constituting roughly one-third of the vaccine-eligible population.

Robert Kennedy Jr., who is considered one of the top spreaders of vaccine misinformation in the U.S.,” quickly posted the Johnson & Johnson story for his 230,000 Facebook followers to gobble up.

Rizza Islam – “another prominent promoter of vaccine hesitancy, especially within the Black community” – followed with a tweet promoting conspiracy theories about the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Islam has 54,000 followers on Twitter.

Not to be outdone, Donald Trump floated his own conspiracy theory, blaming the FDA or Pfizer (or both) for halting the J&J vaccine: “The results of this vaccine have been extraordinary, but now it’s [sic] reputation will be permanently challenged … [The FDA] should not be able to do such damage for possibly political reasons, or maybe because their friends at Pfizer have suggested it.”

Remember, all of this vaccine hokum was triggered by an event that affected six women out of 7 million total vaccinations – a prevalence rate of 0.000088% – for the purpose of casting doubt on COVID vaccines.

Even as Connecticut has been very successful in vaccinating residents, the state is not immune to vaccine misinformation.

Health Choice Connecticut has been running 30-second spots on local TV stations asking, “What would you do if you or a family member were injured by a vaccine?” The ad goes on to say the federal government has paid $4.5 billion since 1986 in injury claims to “individuals damaged by vaccines.”

Health Choice Connecticut describes itself as a “nonpartisan group that raises awareness about the health choices each individual and family have the right to make for themselves.” Predictably, the organization is not exactly a friend to vaccinations, viewing any vaccine-related legislation as an infringement on “rights to medical choice, religious freedom, and informed consent.”

At first glance, the group’s goals might seem worthy. But read the fine print:

Among HCC’s chief allies is the Informed Consent Action Network, a group whose “resources” are linked throughout the HCC website. A fact-check from Science Based Medicine, however, reveals that ICAN writers “massively inflate the risk of vaccination and attribute to vaccines complications, conditions, and diseases not caused by vaccines, such as autism, autoimmune disease, sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), diabetes, and all manner of chronic health conditions, while massively underestimating the actual benefits of vaccination.”

Other “sources” linked by HCC include the National Vaccine Information Center, Vaccine Impact, and Children’s Health Defense, all labeled by Media Bias/Fact Check as “Conspiracy/Pseudoscience” because they “promote quackery-level pseudoscience related to vaccines.”

The current aim of Health Choice Connecticut is to block HB 6423, a bill that would do away with Connecticut’s religious exemption to school vaccination requirements. Last week, the Appropriations Committee approved the proposal in spite of bipartisan complaints raised related to a report on its fiscal impact.

The bill moves on to the state House of Representatives and Senate for passage – but not if Health Choice Connecticut has anything to say. From its perspective, HB 6423 is just another pro-vaccination effort that needs to be thwarted by any means necessary, especially misinformation.

a green button that says support and red button that says oppose
Click above to vote on HB 6423: AN ACT CONCERNING IMMUNIZATIONS

The battle lines have been drawn.

“[Research scientists] are now shifting focus, from false claims that the election was ‘stolen’ to untruths about COVID-19 vaccines,” reports Nature. “Some surveys suggest that more than one-fifth of people in the United States are opposed to receiving a vaccine.”

I’ll be rooting for the scientists, of course. Otherwise, misinformation wins. And if misinformation wins, we all ultimately lose.

Barth Keck is in his 30th year as an English teacher and in his 15th year as assistant football coach at Haddam-Killingworth High School in Higganum where he teaches courses in journalism, media literacy, and AP English Language and Composition. Email Barth here.

The views, opinions, positions, or strategies expressed by the author are theirs alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, or positions of CTNewsJunkie.com.

Barth Keck

Barth Keck is in his 30th year as an English teacher and 15th year as an assistant football coach at Haddam-Killingworth High School where he teaches courses in journalism, media literacy, and AP English Language & Composition.