#HIMSS21Europe – Trusted physician voices needed

A strong call for physicians and other health care professionals to take a leading role in countering misinformation on social media and online regarding COVID-19 vaccines has come from a high-profile panel of European experts.

In the words of Tim Nguyen from the World Health Organization and one of the panelists – physicians need to be the “good” voices on social media challenging the “bad and the ugly” voices promoting misinformation.

The discussion on strategies to counter misinformation and fake news concerning COVID-19 vaccines dominated a keynote discussion on the role of digital public health on the second day of the virtual #HIMSS21Europe conference.

Repeated statements that physicians and others should play more of a role in promoting evidence-based information supporting COVID-19 vaccination came despite an acknowledgement that many providers are already overburdened and exhausted from dealing with the pandemic.

Underpinning the arguments favoring more involvement of health care professionals was the issue of the trust that patients have in their physicians and the fact vaccine hesistancy is associated closely with lack of trust.

While focused on European and World Health Organization speakers and initiatives, the discussions in many ways mirrored those held at the Canadian Immunization Conference held last December in which US and Canadian speakers made a similar call to action to the medical profession.

Speaking on the HIMSS panel were Dr. Jeffrey Lazarus (PhD), head of the health systems research group at the Barcelona Institute of Global Health (ISGlobal) Spain; Dr. Heidi Larson (PhD), professor of anthropology, risk and decision science, dept. infectious disease epidemiology London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, UK; Carlos Mateos, a journalist and director at the COM Salud/Instituto #SaludsinBulos, and Tim Nguyen, head of unit high impact events preparedness at the World Health Organization, Health Emergencies Program, Switzerland.

“Managing the infodemic has become an important part of managing the pandemic” said Dr. Lazarus and Nguyen talked about the new information ecosystem in which the physical and virtual worlds are intertwined.

Both Drs. Lazarus and Larson cited different pan-European surveys conducted in the last year showing that those who had most confidence in their government activities against the pandemic were also most likely to support being vaccinated. “…where trust was higher, vaccine confidence at a country level tended to be higher,” said Dr. Lazarus.

“There’s not just a need for increased public trust in vaccines, but for increased public health community understanding of the dimensions of COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy,” he added.

Nguyen pointed out that not only does misinformation about COVID-19 and COVID-19 vaccines also undermines trust in health services and in healthcare workers themselves.

He noted that only an estimated 10% of healthcare providers have social media accounts. “They are not out there.”

Mateos reiterated his call for physicians and others to be active on social media to provide responses in real time to misinformation. He also noted that individual physicians are seen as some of the most trustworthy sources of information about COVID-19 vaccines and that they can also play a big role when communicating one-on-one with their patients.

In response to his point that telling doctors to become involved on social media can be a big ask for those who are already overwhelmed, Dr. Larson talked about the strength of peer-to-peer support and trust networks in helping them deal with the current environment.

Dr. Larson said a nuanced approach to dealing with vaccine hesitancy on social media and online is needed as just countering anti-vaccine arguments can actually magnify those views. What should be done, she said, is create alternate narratives with accurate information relevant to people’s concerns. 

In response to tweets about the session, Dr. Juan Turnes, chief of gastroenterology and hepatology at the Digestivo Pontevedra Hospital Universitario in Spain and social media editor of the Liver International journal stated that physicians should also use institutional accounts in addition to their personal accounts to share quality information.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s