Editorial Cartoon by Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator – Friday January 27, 2023
COVID-19 misinformation cost at least 2,800 lives and $300M, new report says
The spread of COVID-19 misinformation in Canada cost at least 2,800 lives and $300 million in hospital expenses over nine months of the pandemic, according to estimates in a new report out Thursday.
The report — released by the Council of Canadian Academies (CCA), an independent research organization that receives federal funding — examined how misinformation affected COVID infections, hospitalizations and deaths between March and November of 2021.
The authors suggest that misinformation contributed to vaccine hesitancy for 2.3 million Canadians. Had more people been willing to roll up their sleeves when a vaccine was first available to them, Canada could have seen roughly 200,000 fewer COVID cases and 13,000 fewer hospitalizations, the report says.
Alex Himelfarb, chair of the expert panel that wrote the report, said that its estimates are very conservative because it only examined a nine-month period of the pandemic.
“It’s pretty clear that tens of thousands of hospitalizations did occur because of misinformation,” Himelfarb told reporters. “We are confident that those are conservative estimates.”
Himelfarb also said the $300 million estimate covers only hospital costs — the study didn’t include indirect costs associated with factors such as delayed elective surgeries and lost wages.
A number of studies have found that getting vaccinated can reduce the risk of COVID infection and hospitalization. But only 80 per cent of Canadians have been fully vaccinated, according to the latest data from Health Canada.
The CCA report defines two groups of vaccine-hesitant individuals: those who were reluctant to get a shot and those who refused. It says that reluctant individuals expressed concerns about vaccines in general and questioned the speed with which COVID vaccines were developed.
Vaccine refusers, on the other hand, were more likely to believe that the pandemic is a hoax or greatly exaggerated, the report says.
Beyond the health impacts, misinformation is depriving people of their right to be informed, said Stephan Lewandowsky, a professor at the University of Bristol’s School of Psychological Science in the U.K. and one of the report’s authors.
“In a democracy, the public should be able to understand the risks we’re facing … and act on that basis,” he said. “But if you’re drenched in misinformation … then you’re distorting the public’s ability — and you’re denying people the right — to be informed about the risks they’re facing.”
The report says misinformation relies on simple messages meant to evoke emotional reactions. It says misinformation is often presented as coming from a credible source, such as a scientific publication. (CBC)
From sketch to finish, see the current way Graeme completes an editorial cartoon using an iPencil, the Procreate app, and a couple of cheats on an iPad Pro …