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How to help stop the spread of vaccine myths

A woman on public transport looking at social media on her phone

This article was written during the Queensland response to the COVID-19 pandemic and reflects the information available at the date of publication. Please check the Australian Department of Health COVID-19 webpage for updated information and current health advice regarding COVID-19 and vaccinations in Queensland.

With the current excitement and interest surrounding the new COVID-19 vaccines, there is a lot of information out there. It can be overwhelming and it also makes it easy to hear or read information that may not be accurate.

Understandably, people have many questions and opinions about the vaccines and their development, and often these are shared through social media, videos, and articles. However not everything that is being shared is accurate. There are a lot of false or misleading claims already circulating about the COVID-19 vaccines.

This sort of information isn’t just wrong, it can be dangerous.

Not everyone on the Internet is qualified to speak on every field. Would you feel confident going into heart surgery with someone who didn’t have a medical degree? Or driving on a bridge that hadn’t been built by an engineer?

So how do you know what COVID-19 information to believe? How do you know what is accurate and reliable?

A good rule of thumb is to get your information from trusted sources to make sure you are not being misled or misinformed. This way you can make sure the information you are both learning from, and sharing with others, is helpful and not harmful.

The following eight steps are a good way to check if information you are reading or hearing is helpful and trustworthy, and not harmful.

1. Check their sources

The source is the person who wrote or published the information. It’s a good idea to always check where the information came from. Sadly, people are sometimes quicker to repeat something that's wrong than something that's true.

Much like the incredible unlikelihood of cell phones causing COVID-19 or COVID-19 being cured by ingesting fish-tank cleaning products, you shouldn’t believe everything you read. This will help ensure it is not an assumption, random thought, or opinion.

Example: Did your friend or family member just say something in conversation?

Ask them where they found that information. Can they direct you to the source? Even if it is someone you trust, you still need to check their source. They may have misheard or misunderstood the information. Unfortunately, some news media is not always an accurate source of information.

It’s always better if the source is a primary (original) source of information (not second or third hand) and should be reputable and authoritative. For example, authoritative or credible sources for medical information are clinicians, health departments, public health experts, infectious disease experts, or epidemiologists, not your friend’s cousin’s mother who heard it from a doctor on a Facebook video.

2. Read beyond headlines

Headlines are designed to draw your attention. The headline may be written to be intentionally sensational or provocative to make it more likely for you to open the article or engage with the comments section. Take the time to look at the entire story before making your judgement. Search more widely than social media for information. If possible, go to the original source of the information.

3. Identify the author

Check out the author. Just because someone is an author or says they are an expert doesn’t mean they are. In this instance, Google is your friend. Do some research to see what other works the author is known for. Check if the expert is knowledgeable or qualified to be commenting on the topic.

4. Check the original date of the information

Identify if the information is the most recently available and up to date. Old or no longer valid information can often be used out of context.

5. Examine the supporting evidence

Credible information should always be backed up with verifiable facts. What statistics or evidence supports the claims that are being made and is this research even relevant to the topic?

6. Check your biases

Do you think differently to your Mum and Dad? The answer is, probably, because you were raised in a different generation. Where did you go to school? What was your first job? Are you male? Female? Do you like coriander? We all have very different life experiences, and it all affects how we view the world and the opinions we hold. These influences can also be known as biases. We all have them. Think about whether your existing beliefs or opinions are affecting your judgement. Take a step back and examine why.

7. Turn to fact checkers

Consult trusted fact-checking organisations and information sources. For up-to-date information and FAQs, turn to our COVID-19 vaccine information.

8. Report

Finally, if you see something online you believe is false or misleading, you should report it directly to the platform. You can do so by visiting these links:

By using these eight tips as a guide, you are better equipped to navigate through the noise and find trustworthy information that is right for you.

Taking these precautionary steps could potentially be lifesaving in the fight against COVID-19.

In a nutshell, for medical advice, use information provided by medical professionals – not the Internet.

Last updated: 30 March 2021