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New poll shows many adults are still uncertain when faced with health misinformation

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Health misinformation isn’t new, but it became more widespread during the COVID-19 pandemic.

A new poll out this week shows many Americans are still unsure about what to believe.

KFF, formerly the Kaiser Family Foundation, asked two thousand adults about 10 false health claims.

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One inaccurate statement was “More people died from COVID-19 vaccines than have died from the COVID-19 virus.”

It shows 47 percent of people labeled this as definitely false, but about 20 percent believed this claim was definitely or probably true.

“I think that in the post-COVID world, it’s probably one of the most troubling issues we’re going to face in the long term,” said Dr. Daniel Salmon, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. “Because if people aren’t able or willing to accept the science when it’s compelling, then what are we based it on?”

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Another false claim was that “COVID-19 vaccines have caused thousands of sudden deaths in otherwise healthy people.” The survey shows about 31 percent of adults said this was definitely false. While another third, roughly 34 percent, thought it was definitely or probably true.

“I think it raises all sorts of issues for vaccine programs for public health more broadly, potentially other government-supported programs,” said Dr. Salmon.

Overall researchers say very few people believed every inaccurate claim.

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“Most people are kind of uncertain. They either say, I think that’s probably true, or it’s probably false. But we found that the majority of people were having trouble discerning the truth around some of these claims,” said Liz Hamel, vice president and director of public opinion and survey research at KFF.

When it comes to the source of health information, the findings show most people trust their own doctor’s recommendations. But a quarter of adults say they rely on social media for health advice.

“We do have some evidence that an overreliance on social media as a source of information about health can be detrimental in terms of people’s ability, to discern fact from fiction,” said Hamel.

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Hamel believes it’ll take a multiple-faceted approached to combat medical misinformation.

“When they see friends and family posting things that they know to be false, or that they think might be false on social media, investigating those claims with fact-based sources and helping point out when things are not true, is one way that individuals can help,” she said.

The survey also participants about false reproductive health claims.  It shows about a third of adults believed this false statement that “using birth control like the pill or IUDs makes it harder for most women to get pregnant after they stop using them.”

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