Nurses Celebrating Covid-19 Vaccines Battle Social Media Scorn

(Bloomberg) - When the first Covid-19 vaccines were administered last week, many frontline health workers in the US posted celebratory photos on social media. At one triumphant moment, some saw themselves as the target of skeptical or even contemptuous comments from people who opposed vaccines.
A nurse on Twitter with the handle @saruhhdanae shared the message with a picture of her getting the Pfizer shot in an eight exclamation point post. Soon, in the midst of congratulatory and appreciation notes, came replies from people saying they were too afraid to take it and predicting terrible side effects or worse. "I've made a decision for myself and all kinds of people are predicting my death," she said in a follow-up tweet, noting that she was still happy to be vaccinated.
After coronavirus vaccines were developed and marketed in record time, the first to receive them have become de facto online ambassadors to reassure the public that they are safe. You are dealing with the anti-vaccine movement, which has been spreading rumors of the dangers of common, safer vaccines on Facebook groups and Instagram influencer accounts for years. As the U.S. states figure out how to get the vaccinations in place when doses pour in, some people wonder if they should get them at all, often because they are scrolling online communities where emotional anecdotes spread faster than accepted science .
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Battles in the online comments wear down already stressed out nurses, said Dan Weberg, director of clinical innovation at Trusted Health, which connects travel nurses with hospitals. "After being beaten up for 10 months in the pandemic, they are now being beaten up on social media for making a decision that could save hundreds of thousands of lives."
Social media platforms like Facebook Inc., Twitter Inc., and YouTube are beginning to reckon with the role they have played in the continued popularity of vaccine skepticism. Twitter said that starting this week, it will remove any content that spreads vaccine-related conspiracies or false and widely debunked claims about the effects of the shot. Until early next year, the company can flag incomplete or out of context vaccine information with a link to health authority information.
Facebook, which has tried to keep anti-vaccination groups out of its recommendations to users, said it will look at ways to encourage health care workers to share the positive news about their shots. "As this trend continues, we are actively looking for ways to promote and support it," said the company. A Covid-19 information center has also been updated with information on vaccines.
In first-shot posts that have flooded Instagram, Facebook, TikTok, and Twitter, healthcare workers have sometimes expected the setback in their language choice. "I hope to show my family, friends, and patients that the vaccine is safe, effective, and vital to normalizing our lives," tweeted Madeline DiLorenzo, a resident of Boston Medical Center.
"I'm shocked my friends are asking if I can get the # COVIDVaccine ... HELL YES !!" Nasrien Ibrahim, a cardiologist in Boston, said on Instagram. "I'm a clinician and a researcher. I believe in science. What do you think happened to polio? "
The vaccine has even sparked intense debate in medical Facebook groups. Kaithlyn Rojas, who works with intubated Covid-19 patients at Highland Hospital in Oakland, Calif., Said she couldn't believe what she saw in care groups on Facebook.
"Someone will comment on a reason why they are not getting the vaccine and there will be a rebuttal that goes back and forth between the scientific evidence and the rumor," Rojas said. "There are a lot of opinions that are used or obtained as factual information, just like in the election we just had." In an October poll by the American Nurses Federation, 37% of nurses said they weren't sure whether the vaccines were safe and effective.
The Center to Combat Digital Hate noted that the anti-vaccination movement has grown online, despite the fact that platforms have tried to contain it, thanks to large fan base influencers and strategic attempts by these leaders to target vaccine reluctant people, especially mothers and ethnic minorities, to recruit. The group asked volunteers to report misinformation about vaccines to social media companies in the fall. Less than 5% of the 912 areas marked as problematic were removed.
The Covid-19 vaccine could make it easy for their message to reach a wider audience, said Imran Ahmed, CEO of the Center to Combat Digital Hate, in the group's latest report. "Anti-Vaxxer see the Covid vaccine as an opportunity to create persistent suspicions about the effectiveness, safety and need for vaccination," he said. "If urgent action is not taken, they can succeed."
Ashley Sayles, a Baltimore pediatric nurse, said she saw extreme reluctance to take vaccines among mothers, particularly in the black community. She is trying to expose medical misinformation through her Instagram, where she has 25,000 followers. She has decided not to release the Covid-19 vaccine yet because her patients are not eligible to receive it. Until they can, it will be able to add more data to the argument. "I know that it will be difficult for me to convince families with this Covid vaccine," she said. "I can hardly get her to take the flu shot that has been around for so long."
In either case, she doesn't expect any help from social media companies. "With the way the algorithms work, you will see it if you want to see vaccine skepticism."
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© 2020 Bloomberg L.P.
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