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Surgeon general calls COVID-19 misinformation an "urgent threat"

Surgeon general warns of COVID misinformation
COVID-19 misinformation an “urgent threat,” surgeon general says 03:35

The Delta variant is fueling a rapid increase in new COVID-19 infections nationwide. For the first time in months, the U.S. is once again reporting more than 1,000 new cases every hour. This comes as the number of people getting vaccinated is plummeting.

In his first advisory, Surgeon General Vivek Murthy issued a stark warning Thursday in an effort to fight misinformation that the COVID vaccine is dangerous. Murthy said the false information shared on social media is driving vaccine hesitancy, especially among young people, who are increasingly hospitalized because of the Delta variant, particularly in the South.

"Health misinformation is a serious threat to public health," the advisory said. "We know enough to be sure that misinformation is an urgent threat, and that we can and must confront it together."

"Amid all this information, many people have also been exposed to health misinformation: information that is false, inaccurate, or misleading according to the best available evidence at the time. Misinformation has caused confusion and led people to decline COVID-19 vaccines, reject public health measures such as masking and physical distancing, and use unproven treatments," the advisory said. 

Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy on July 15, 2021. Susan Walsh / AP

The nation's vaccination rate continues to stall. Daily vaccinations have dropped by more than half in the last month alone and now the CDC projects an increase in COVID-related hospitalizations nationwide. A Kaiser Family Foundation study found that two-thirds of those surveyed believe at least one of several myths circulating about the vaccines. 

In what feels a bit like the early days of the pandemic, the New York Yankees were forced to postpone Thursday's game after several players tested positive. In Los Angeles County, where new cases have more than doubled in a week, a new indoor mask mandate will go into effect at midnight on Saturday, whether a person is vaccinated or not.

Across the South, the rate of hospitalizations is rising among every age group. Daily cases in Tennessee have more than doubled in the last two weeks, yet the state has halted vaccination drives for adolescents and scaled back promoting vaccines. Children there are going back to school in a few weeks. Some parents are anxious to get their children vaccinated while others are not.

Mimi Pohlman, of Nashville, has three teenage boys, who have not been vaccinated against COVID. Pohlman, however, said her boys have had other vaccinations in the past. 

"My issue is there's no long-term safety data. As a parent, you try to make the best decisions with the facts and the information that we know and we're just not given enough information that could be life-changing," she said. 

Meanwhile, Tonya Graham's son, Chase, is immunocompromised and relies on herd immunity for protection. "Every single time you have a 'not me' attitude, you are saying, 'That's fine, it's OK for Chase to potentially become critically ill.'"

Nashville Public Schools will not require students and staff to wear face masks when school starts here in a few weeks.

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