The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion How many people died believing vaccine misinformation?

Chris Crouch applies an ointment to the neck of his wife, Diana, on Feb. 7. Diana tested positive for the coronavirus while 18 weeks pregnant. (Mark Felix/For The Washington Post)
Placeholder while article actions load

“Freaking miracle.” That’s how health journalist Helen Branswell recently described the vaccines that have saved millions of lives in the coronavirus pandemic. The vaccines, offered to the U.S. population, have proved to be 90 percent effective against infection. Ready within a year of the outbreak, they have proved to be safe. And they are widely available and free. There is no parallel in modern times.

Yet, some people chose to believe otherwise. In a just-published nationwide survey of 18,782 people across all 50 states and the District of Columbia, the Covid States Project asked about four vaccine misinformation claims, asking respondents whether they were “true” or “false” or if a respondent was “not sure.” Five percent said they thought that vaccines contained microchips; 7 percent said vaccines used aborted fetal cells; 8 percent said the vaccines could alter human DNA; and 10 percent were concerned that vaccines could cause infertility. Forty-six percent were uncertain about the veracity of at least one of the four false statements.

The survey shows how misinformation about vaccines continues to erode confidence in them. What kind of message is sent when Fox News host Tucker Carlson compares coronavirus vaccine mandates to medical experiments conducted by Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan, as he did Jan. 21? Or Mr. Carlson’s many previous broadcasts raising questions in a haphazard way and relying on dubious sources? The new survey found that people who believe vaccine misinformation, or express uncertainty about it, tend to register higher degrees of trust in Fox News than those who reject the false vaccine claims. It also identified other groups of people who are more inclined to believe the misinformation. Young parents stood out as vulnerable to false claims.

Misinformation about vaccines has a direct correlation with whether people get immunized. The survey showed that among those who did not believe any of the false statements, 80 percent said they were already vaccinated. In the group that thought multiple false statements were true, 60 percent were hesitant to get the shot.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 1 in 5 eligible Americans have yet to get their first vaccine dose. Millions of people remain unvaccinated. They were 14 times more likely than the vaccinated to die of covid, as of December, the latest month for which data is available. How many of the 551,168 covid deaths in the United States since Jan. 1, 2021, could have been averted with vaccines? Too many.

No more powerful case can be made than the voices of those who hesitated to get vaccinated and then faced the awful consequences. Consider the agonizing story of Chris Crouch and his wife, Diana, related in The Post by reporter Ariana Eunjung Cha. They were adamant they did not need to get vaccinated. When Diana was 18 weeks pregnant, she tested positive for the coronavirus and, ultimately, had to fight for her life and that of her baby.

In the era of a “freaking miracle,” that is a fight no one should have to suffer through.

Loading...