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September 19, 2021

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Facebook: Friend or Foe?

By Karen Kier

Pharmacist on behalf of the ONU HealthWise team

COVID-19 cases have tripled in the United States since June 30, 2021 from approximately 15,000 new cases to over 45,000. The CDC has reported a rise in COVID-19 deaths with 99% of the deaths in the unvaccinated. Dr. Rochelle Walensky, Director of the CDC, considers the current situation as a pandemic of the unvaccinated. President Biden lashed out at Facebook as a social media platform that disseminates misinformation about the COVID-19 vaccines. The President went as far as saying that Facebook was responsible for killing people. Facebook responded quickly to indicate that the platform had provided factual information to millions around the world, as well as helped people identify vaccine locations.

So who is right? They are both right! It is how people use the information found on Facebook and who they believe. Facebook has provided a platform for misinformation about the COVID-19 vaccine that continues to get repeated and this has caused harm, which is becoming more evident with the delta variant. Facebook has been proactive in providing vaccine related information. The harm of misinformation probably outweighs the proclaimed benefits. There is no benefit in providing vaccination sites if people are hesitant to get the vaccine.

The Washington Post published information that they identified 111 subscribers that are responsible for the anti-vaccine messages on Facebook. So 111 is then shared and repeated to create the information spread. This phenomenon is referred to as the echo chamber. This is one way to demonstrate the rapid spread of information to millions from a select few. This can have important benefits, as well as damaging results.

Prior to President Biden’s comments, I had already made the decision not to attend one of my high school reunion functions due to the misinformation that some of my classmates were spreading on Facebook. Within one week, they managed to distort COVID-19 vaccine information that our ONU HealthWise team has tried to overcome. I am worried for their safety as this delta variant takes hold in Ohio.

One post related to testing positive for COVID-19 after receiving the COVID-19 vaccination. Over 40 responses jumped in and basically said the vaccine is worthless and this is why it is better to get COVID-19 and survive it then get the vaccine. Just one response to the post had the correct answer. The vaccinated individual tested positive after being exposed to their children and grandchildren who had contracted the COVID-19 delta variant and were all unvaccinated. The adult children and grandchildren had symptoms prompting the testing and one of the adults was hospitalized for COVID-19. The vaccinated individual did test positive due to the exposure and had no symptoms. The vaccine is meant to be protective against COVID-19 especially in reducing severe symptoms, hospitalization, and death. The vaccine is not 100% effective in preventing COVID-19 infections but ranges from 85-100% in prevention but 100% in protection. The vaccine ultimately protected the individual from getting symptoms and complications from COVID-19. So the post should have been thanking the COVID-19 vaccine for protection. In addition, individuals who have had COVID-19 run the risk of being infected again with the delta variant and so cases of reinfection are being documented if they continue to be unvaccinated.

The second post had to do with information available on the CDC website pertaining to the VAERS program (Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System). The CDC has reported that 334 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines have been given in the United States between December 14, 2020 and July 12, 2021. During this time frame, the VAERS network has received 6,079 reports of deaths and many more side effects. So the second post had to do with why would you get the COVID-19 vaccine when it is safer to get the infection? Absolute misrepresentation of the data. VAERS is merely a reporting system that is meant to provide data so that early warning signals can be detected. The VAERS system does not assign cause and effect and has no scientific control of the data. The system could even have the same death or side effect reported multiple times resulting in inaccurate numbers. Scientists take these data and run analyzes to get a better understanding of the relationships. Any side effect is reported to VAERS including mild side effects such as pain or redness at the injection site. McGill University has an Office of Science and Society that addresses misinformation related to public health. The mission of the Office is to separate "Sense from Nonsense". The McGill website has an excellent article on "Don't Fall for the 'VAERS Scare' tactic: Anti-vaxxers show how a precious vaccine adverse event reporting database can be used to scare the public".

So is Facebook a friend or foe? I think the answer is really why are we getting our scientific and rationale reasoning from Facebook when we have highly educated experts that have better information and websites to provide intelligent answers?

The Ohio Northern University Drug and Health Information Center continues to monitor the world literature. The website to submit a question is https://www.onu.edu/student-life/health-and-wellness-resources/onu-healt....

Feel free to call the ONU HealthWise Pharmacy or talk to your health care professional. ONU HealthWise is offering walk-ins for COVID-19 vaccines. Call the pharmacy to get more information on how you can get vaccinated.